Caring for Your North Carolina Pet With a PET TRUST
By Vance R. Parker, JD, MBA
You love your pet as a member of your family, but what might happen to your dog or cat if you couldn’t be there for him or her? Unfortunately, many pets from senior owners end up at North Carolina animal shelters after their owners either become ill or pass away.
Many of these pets tend to be older than average, so animal shelters have a hard time finding another loving home for them. Potential adoptive parents frequently don’t pick them because they are afraid that these pets will pass away too soon, or that the older pets’ vet bills will be too high. Thus many seniors’ pets must be euthanized, which is the last thing their loving senior parents would have wanted.
Under North Carolina law, you can’t just gift your pet money, or simply leave money for your pet in your will, like you can do for a human loved one. That’s because our legal system treats a pet as a person’s personal property, not as an individual with legal rights. Fortunately, North Carolina law does provide you with a valuable alternative: the pet trust.
Animal care trusts (pet trusts) have their own separate section in the North Carolina Trust Code (the statutes which describe how trusts must be formed and administered in North Carolina). The North Carolina pet trust is a legally enforceable document which allows any person to leave money or other assets for one or more named pets that are alive at the time the trust was created. Trusts or wills containing testamentary pet trust language may later be amended if needed (with a trust amendment or codicil) to account for pets that have left or have been added to the owner’s household.
Under the pet trust statute, the grantor (the person who sets up the trust) chooses a trusted caretaker for the pet (trustee). The trustee uses the funds the grantor left for the pet to take care of the pet and to pay such expenses as food and housing costs, and vet bills. The instructions for the pet’s care that the grantor writes into the trust are legally enforceable, and it is illegal for the trustee or anyone else to use any of the money left for the pet for anything other than the pet’s care.
The North Carolina pet trust may be set up affordably and may be added to a will, added to an existing trust (such as a revocable trust), or set up as a freestanding document. Because a will document is normally only used after a person passes away, it may be better to set up a pet trust within a living revocable trust, or as a freestanding trust. This is the best way to make sure that your pet will be provided for if you become ill and can no longer take care of your pet, or after you pass away.
Vance Parker is an elder law attorney with Vance Parker Law, PLLC. For more information, visit vparkerlaw.com.References: N.C. Gen. Stat. § 36C-4-408