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Monday, March 27, 2017

Estate Planning for Pets - Part 6

This series of articles was originally published online by The Estate Planning for Pets Foundation, copyright © 2003. The Foundation appears to be now defunct and the website where these articles were published is now owned by a private legal firm in southern California. The articles were reprinted with permission in the Michigan Boxer Club newsletter, The ChatterBoxer, from June - August 2004 and are being revived here, with a few updates to applicable tax issues and website links, under that same reprint permission.


In addition to consulting the statutes and case law of your own jurisdiction, the Estate Planning for Pets Foundation also recommends considering the following secondary sources:

Beyer, Gerry W., Pet Animals: What Happens when Their Humans Die?, 40 Santa Clara L. Rev. 617 (2000)
Hirschfield, Rachel, Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets, American Bar Association GPSOLO, (July/August 2009)

Jensen, J. Alan, Tax and Estate Planning Involving Pets: Stupid Pet Tricks for the IRS and Fido, (Aug. 2000)

Marquand, Barbara, Trusts for Dogs? Providing for Pets After You're Gone, Forbes (December 1, 2105)

MSU Animal Legal & Historical Center: Wills and Trusts

Uniform Trust Code


Depending on the circumstances, you may have to consider naming an organization as the caretaker for your pet.

If the organization is a particular type of tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation or association, it may already have a legal duty to provide for the welfare and prevent cruelty to, animals. In any case, you should personally visit the facilities and discuss the matters directly with a party who represents the organization before making the decision.

The following is a list of links to organizations, commercial and nonprofit, that have formal programs for the care of dogs upon the death or disability of their owners.

Permanent Care

The following organizations have specific programs to provide permanent care for a dog after the owner’s death, either through fostering or adoption:

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue Lifetime Care, California

Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, Florida

Pet Estates Inc., New York

The Silver Streak Kennel, New York

Watermelon Mountain Ranch, New Mexico

Lifetime Care Programs for Animals (List)

Organizations Providing Animal Care After Owner's Death (List)


If you would like additional information about estate planning for pets, consider the following books, written with the non-lawyer reader in mind:

Anderson, Mary G. &  Frank Doyle, Pet Protection Legal Care Plan (Be Here Now Publishing Group, 2015)

Congalton, Donald & Charlotte Alexander, When Your Pet Outlives You: Protecting Animal Companions After You Die (New Sage Press 2002)

Hoyt, Peggy R., All My Children Wear Fur Coats: How to Leave a Legacy for Your Pet (Legacy Planning Partners, LLC 2002)


Honorary trusts; trusts for pets.

(1) Subject to subsection (3), if a trust is for a specific lawful noncharitable purpose or for lawful noncharitable purposes to be selected by the trustee, and if there is no definite or definitely ascertainable beneficiary designated, the trust may be performed by the trustee for 21 years, but no longer, whether or not the terms of the trust contemplate a longer duration.

(2) Subject to this subsection and subsection (3), a trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal is valid. The trust terminates when no living animal is covered by the trust. A governing instrument shall be liberally construed to bring the transfer within this subsection, to presume against the merely precatory or honorary nature of the disposition, and to carry out the general intent of the transferor. Extrinsic evidence is admissible in determining the transferor's intent.

(3) In addition to the provisions of subsection (1) or (2), a trust covered by either of those subsections is subject to the following provisions:

  (a) Except as expressly provided otherwise in the trust instrument, no portion of the principal or income may be converted to the use of the trustee or to a use other than for the trust's purposes or for the benefit of a covered animal.

  (b) Upon termination, the trustee shall transfer the unexpended trust property in the following order:

    (i) As directed in the trust instrument.

     (ii) If the trust was created in a nonresiduary clause in the transferor's will or in a codicil to the transferor's will, under the residuary clause in the transferor's will.

    (iii) If no taker is produced by the application of subparagraph (i) or (ii), to the transferor's heirs under section 2720.

  (c) For the purposes of sections 2714 to 2716, the residuary clause is treated as creating a future interest under the terms of a trust.

  (d) The intended use of the principal or income can be enforced by an individual designated for that purpose in the trust instrument or, if none, by an individual appointed by a court upon petition to it by an individual.

  (e) Except as ordered by the court or required by the trust instrument, no filing, report, registration, periodic accounting, separate maintenance of funds, appointment, or fee is required by reason of the existence of the fiduciary relationship of the trustee.

  (f) The court may reduce the amount of the property transferred if it determines that that amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use. The amount of the reduction, if any, passes as unexpended trust property under subdivision (b).

  (g) If a trustee is not designated or no designated trustee is willing or able to serve, the court shall  name a trustee. The court may order the transfer of the property to another trustee if the transfer is necessary to ensure that the intended use is carried out, and if a successor trustee is not designated in the trust instrument or if no designated successor trustee agrees to serve or is able to serve. The court may also make other orders and determinations as are advisable to carry out the intent of the transferor and the purpose of this section.

  (h) The trust is not subject to the uniform statutory rule against perpetuities, 1988 PA 418, MCL 554.71 to 554.78. 

History: Pub Acts 1998, No. 386, §2722, by §8101 eff April 1, 2000 (see §700.7101)

Please consult the Michigan Legislature website for the most current Michigan statutes online.

Search your own state's legislature website for laws regarding pet trusts and estate planning.

Articles in this series:

Part 1 - Introduction and Legal Issues
Part 2 - Statutory Pet Trust
Part 3 - Traditional Legal Trusts and Tax Considerations
Part 4 - Drafting Estate Planning Documents
Part 5 - Sample Language
Part 6 - Resources and Further Reading

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