By Clifford Gravett Esq.
Perhaps it is a sign of the changing times, but more and more people are interested in making sure their pets are taken care of after their death. Although there are a few very high profile cases where very wealthy people leave millions and millions to their poodle, the more common scenario is a pet owner who wants to ensure that, after they die, their pet has a safe home and is adequately fed. This article examines how such arrangements can be made while not falling afoul (or, afowl as the case may be) of Nevada probate/trust law.
The first point upon which I need to be absolutely clear is that only people are allowed to be heirs or beneficiaries. This means that under no condition will a court honor a will that leaves everything to Sally the Parrot, no matter how good her English is. The same thing applies to trusts, Muffins cannot be the primary death beneficiary of your trust. However, that does not mean that all the pet lovers out there are out of luck. Nevada law does allow for a special kind of trust to provide for the care and maintenance of animals after their owner’s death so long as: 1) the trust provides sufficient instructions that the identity of the animal can be ascertained; and 2) the trust/will instructions direct the trustee/executor to provide for the care and welfare of the animal following the owner’s death. In other words, although you cannot make your Schnauzer a millionaire, you can make sure she lives like one after you pass away. A distinction without a difference? Maybe, but it does mean that, for now at least, your dog can’t buy his own doghouse in Malibu after you die.
As with all things legal, there are some important limitations on the creation of a trust for the care of an animal. First, the testamentary document must have language sufficient that an intent to create a trust for care of an animal is clear. Second, the trust lasts only as long as the animal is alive. If Peaches has kittens after you pass the kitties will have to learn to fend for themselves. Finally (and perhaps most importantly from Buttons’s point of view), you can’t leave more money for the care of your pet than is reasonably necessary. Sorry Buttons, no diamond studded collars for Christmas this year! If you do leave more money to your pet than it needs (or if it dies before the money set aside for its care is exhausted) the remainder of the money goes to the human beneficiary of the trust or devisee of the will. While this certainly does give the human beneficiaries a certain incentive to knock off the pooch to get their money sooner rather than later, it seems the legislature was more concerned about us humans than our furry counterparts.
So there you have it. Estate planning has gone to the dogs and there’s nothing we can really do about it. If you are interested about setting up an animal care trust for your favorite feline, puppy, or parrot a call to a qualified estate planning attorney is an important first step. And no, kids, this article does not mean you’re getting a puppy for Christmas.
Clifford Gravett is a local attorney with the Virgin Valley law firm of Bingham Snow & Caldwell located in Mesquite. The firm serves clients in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah (702-346-7300 / www.binghamsnow.com). Is there a topic you’d like to see discussed in a future article? E-mail him at email@example.com.