Animal/Pet Trusts

pet trust

New Jersey passed legislation a short while ago permitting the creation of a Pet Trust under: N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:11-38.

The new law states:

  1. A trust for the care of a domesticated animal is valid. The intended use of the principal or income may be enforced by a person designated for that purpose in the trust instrument, a person appointed by the court, or a trustee. The trust shall terminate when no living animal is covered by the trust, or at the end of 21 years, whichever occurs earlier.
  2. Except as expressly provided otherwise in the trust instrument, no portion of the trust’s principal or income may be converted to the use of the trustee or to any use other than for the benefit of the animal designated in the trust.
  3. Upon termination of the trust, the trustee shall transfer the unexpended trust property as directed in the trust instrument. If no directions for such transfer exist, the property shall pass to the estate of the creator of the trust.
  4. The court may reduce the amount of the property transferred if it determines that the amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use. The amount of any reduction shall be transferred as directed in the trust instrument or, if no such directions are contained in the trust instrument, to the estate of the creator of the trust.
  5. If no trustee is designated or if no designated trustee is willing or able to serve, a court shall appoint a trustee and may make such other orders and determinations as are advisable to carry out the intent of the creator of the trust and the purpose of this act.

Prior Law

Previously, an animal trust existed as an honorary trust (i.e. there was no judicial enforcement).

Planning Points

  1. Unlike most other trusts, the beneficiaries of an animal trust literally cannot talk for themselves, so the Grantor/Pet Owner must clearly indicate what level of care should be given to the surviving pet. The document should also clarify what payments may be made to the pet’s caretaker.
  2. A remainder beneficiary should always be considered (and it is usually inadvisable to make the caretaker the remainderman).
  3. Many animals live longer than 21 years, so a truly trusted caretaker and trustee should be considered. Any animal trust that is in excess of 21 years likely continues as an honorary trust.
  4. The animal should be clearly identified to prevent fraud.

Tax Aspects

  1. A Pet Trust is taxed as a complex trust that has not made any distributions. Revenue Ruling 76-4876.
  2. In general, a trust’s income is subject to graduated income taxation at the same rates as individuals with the highest marginal rate of 35% taking effect after only $10,050 (for 2006) of income, a significant detrimental income tax effect. Some commentators have reported that the IRS will tax these trusts at a marginal rate that is lower than that of the average trust.