Attorney David A. Rubin of St. Louis has found an unusual way to
get people interested in estate planning: talk to them about their
No one really likes to talk about what will happen to their
possessions after they die. But pet lovers are even less happy at
the prospect of their companion ending up in a shelter or on the
They discount their own value, but they elevate the value of
their pets, Rubin said. If that's what it takes for them to see a
lawyer, I'm all for it.
Missouri is among a growing number of states that are recognizing
that, just like human beings, people's pets can be protected by
As a result, pet owners in these states are sitting down with
estate planning lawyers to craft documents that will ensure the well-
being of their animals once the owners die or become incapacitated.
And if anecdotal reports are any indication, some of these animal
owners are sparing no expense to make sure that Fido and Tabby will
continue to live comfortably until they too are ready to depart this
Eden Rose Brown, who heads a four-lawyer trusts and estates
practice in Salem, Ore., reports that she recently set up her
biggest pet trust ever, a $2 million trust for a corporate executive
with no children and a batch of dogs and cats. The trust requires
that the pets continue to live in their current home, which will be
occupied by a salaried caregiver until the last animal is gone. The
remaining balance in the trust will then go to charity.
And this kind of money isn't unheard of - baby boomers are
notorious for the amount of money they spend on pets, and now that
they are heading toward retirement and planning the disposition of
their estates the wealthier animal owners in their ranks are
creating six-figure and even seven-figure pet trusts.
Opportunity for business
To Brown, these developments provide opportunities for trusts and
estates lawyers that many are letting pass by.
A lot of lawyers don't quite see it yet, she said. They think
Thirty-three states now allow the creation of pet trusts, with
nine more currently considering legislation to do so, according to
attorney Ann Chambers, president of the Omaha, Neb.-based Animal
Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).
Two states, California and Wisconsin, authorize honorary pet
trusts, but because they are not enforceable they are of limited
Although bills were proposed in the 2004 and 2005 legislative
sessions in Oklahoma that would have allowed for the creation of pet
trusts, both failed to make it to the governor's desk.
Missouri had such honorary trusts until 2004, when the state
Legislature adopted laws allowing for court-enforceable pet trusts.
The law went into effect at the beginning of 2005.
Scot Boulton, an attorney with Polsinelli Shalton Welte Suelthaus
PC in St. Louis, is chairman of the Missouri Bar's committee for
probates and trusts. He said that in Missouri such trusts are
relatively rare, and that setting up pet trusts is something lawyers
may deal with once in a while, but in which few specialize.
It's not that people hang themselves out as 'Ace Ventura, Pet
Lawyer,' he said.
Chambers said that before these statutes were enacted, people did
seek to ensure care for their pets. But because only humans could be
designated as trust beneficiaries, clients had to rely entirely on
the trustworthiness of designated caregivers.
People would set up trusts for their pets, but without
legislation, they weren't enforceable, she said. There were horror
stories. Humans would end up with the estate and the animals would
end up in shelters.
ALDF became a strong proponent of laws to ensure that trusts
would provide the care that pet owners wanted, and it also helped
draft a Uniform Probate Code section to validate domestic or pet
animal trusts in 1990. …