Apr
7
2004

On March 19, Illinois became one of at least 24 states to pass a Pet Care Trust law that allows people to bequeath money directly to their pets. Veterinarians practicing in these states should ask clients if their animals are wards of trusts. If an animal is the ward of a trust, legal experts advise veterinarians to obtain copies of Pet Trust clauses and signature pages and obtain personal payment guarantees from clients.

Pet Care Trusts can affect the way veterinarians practice and how they are paid, said Gregory Dennis, JD, immediate past-president of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association (AVMLA).  Trustees of animals have no personal liability to pay debts, explained Dennis. He added that animal welfare is also an issue. The fear that trustees would promote euthanasia if they benefit financially from a ward’s death has prompted states to require written consent from two veterinarians who agree that euthanasia is in the best interest of the animal, Dennis said. 

These laws also provide veterinarians with an opportunity to educate clients about legal options, said Gerry W. Beyer, JD, LLM, JSD, who teaches law at St. Mary’s University in Texas. “You can tell your patients’ owners how their pets can be cared for after their death,” he said.

The language of Pet Care Trust laws varies state by state, though legislation usually contains specific care instructions that can be enforced by probate courts. “I expect that these trust provisions will be honored and enforced,” Dennis said. “[Pet care trusts have] become a more common phenomenon as of late, but [they’re] not completely brand new.” 

Some states have had Pet Care Trusts since 1983, but momentum for the legislation is building, Dennis said. “I expect the number [of states with these laws] to grow rapidly now,” he added. The impetus for adoption of these laws dates to the 1990s, when a model for Pet Care Trust provisions was added to the Uniform Probate Code. For more information, visit the Animal Legal and Historical Center for background information and links to state laws.

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