Can You Leave Your Money to Your Pet?

Rather leave your fortune to your dog?  Fortunately for your human family, you can’t.  Pets are legally classified as personal property in North Dakota and Minnesota, so they cannot own property themselves.  However, you can create an Animal Trust to ensure that your dog, cat, or other pet does not become a financial burden to your friends and family and to ensure that your pets will be properly cared for when you pass.

In 2007, the North Dakota legislature specifically allowed for the creation of Animal Trusts to protect your pets.  Section 59-12-08 of the North Dakota Century Code, titled “Trust for care of dog-1194087_1920animal” sets forth the requirements and limits of an Animal Trust. For those in Moorhead, the Minnesota legislature recently passed a similar statute allowing for the creation of Animal Trusts. In Section 501C.0408 of Minnesota Statutes, Minnesota now allows for the creation of a “Trust for the Care of Animal.”  Minnesota was the last state to allow such trusts.

Under North Dakota and Minnesota law, an Animal Trust can be established while you are living or established in your will upon your death.  Just like any other trust, you will need to appoint someone as the trustee.  The trustee will administer the trust as you have directed and manage the trust for the benefit of your pet.  But, because a pet is technically your property, you cannot appoint a guardian for your pet and you will need to direct in your will who will become your pet’s owner upon your death.  Be careful in making this decision and make sure the person you choose understands the responsibility he or she is agreeing to accept.

The trust will terminate upon the death of your last surviving pet which was also alive during your lifetime.  If excess property remains in the trust upon your pet’s death, it will be distributed according to the trust document.  If there is no relevant provision in the trust document, then the excess funds will be distributed to your heirs-at-law.  So, you should ensure that your Animal Trust makes clear how you want the excess funds distributed to avoid state statutes determining how the funds are distributed.  In the spirit of the animal trust, you may want to consider donating any excess funds to a local animal shelter or rescue organization.

At this point, you may be thinking you can leave your entire fortune to your pet by putting it in a trust and directing that it all be spent to pamper your pet.  Again, fortunately for the humans, you can’t do this either.  If the court determines that the value of the trust is greater than what is needed to care for your pets, the court may intervene and direct that property in trust be distributed differently.  In both North Dakota and Minnesota, the court will direct the trustee to distribute the excess funds as directed by the trust document or, if no direction is provided in the trust document, the court will direct that the excess property be distributed to your heirs at law.  Although your pets cannot inherit your fortune, an Animal Trust still provides a way to ensure financial support for your pets rather than burdening friends and family and helps avoid fearing that your pets will go uncared for or be given up after you pass away.

If you are interested in setting up an Animal Trust, contact Stephen Welle at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys. He is an experienced attorney with a focus on wills and estate planning and he understands how people care deeply for their pets.  Call him at 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 today.

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