A Publication of WTVP

Your pet has provided you with years of faithful companionship. Now Illinois law allows you to ensure you don’t leave your faithful friend stranded, even in death.

Currently, more than 63 percent of U.S. households 69.1 million homes—have a pet. According to a Pet Owner Survey conducted by the APPMA in 2004, pet owners spent $34.4 billion annually on their pets in the form of food, vet care, supplies, medicines, live animal purchases, grooming, and boarding. With the large number of households containing pets, it isn’t surprising that between 12 and 27 percent of pet owners have included provisions for their pets in their wills. Doris Duke, heiress to the Duke Tobacco fortune, reportedly created a trust for the care of her dog in the amount of $100,000.

A pet owner should consider making some arrangements for their pet in advance so their pet is cared for in the event something happens to the owner. Local animal shelters constantly take in animals from families relinquishing pets of deceased loved ones. Some of these animals are too old or too ill to be adopted into a new family. Thus, they’re often euthanized. Providing for your pet may be as simple as contacting a friend or family member and getting their commitment that, if you die, they’ll accept your pet into their homes and lives and provide for the animal’s continued care. An added incentive to do this easily could be a trust created to assist family members with the costs associated with the care of the animal.

The concept of leaving money for the benefit of pets upon the death of the owner isn’t a new concept. However, it’s important that the money left for the benefit of the animals be left in a legally sound manner that doesn’t fail due to legal technicalities. The law considers pets to be personal property. In other words, they’re equivalent to a car or a boat—not equivalent to a child. Since pets are personal property, you can’t leave belongings or money to your pet as a direct beneficiary under your estate plan. One piece of property can’t own another.

However, thanks to public outcry in Illinois, a new law was passed in January 2005 allowing for Illinoisans to create trusts for the benefit of their pets. Trusts now can be established for the care of one or more designated domestic animals. To effectuate the trust, both the animal and a specified dollar amount designated to the care and needs of the animal during its lifetime should be bequeathed to the trust. The trust terminates when no living animal is covered by the trust. The manner in which the money in the trust is spent is controlled by a person who’s specifically designated in the trust instrument. Where no person is specified, and upon petition by an individual, the court will appoint someone to act as the trustee of the trust. The amount of property or money allowed to be transferred to the trust can be reduced by the court if it’s found to exceed substantially the amount required for the intended use.

When the trust terminates, all money and property left in the trust will be transferred as directed in the trust instrument. If the instrument doesn’t direct how the remaining trust property should be distributed, it either will transfer under the residuary clause of the client’s will or to the transferor’s heirs, pursuant to Section 2-1 of the Probate Act of 1975. IBI