For the Love of Spot – Pet Trusts in Colorado

Spot is my neighbor’s dog. There are few people Spot doesn’t want to bite. Because I fostered her as a rescue puppy, I am one of the lucky and very few humans that she loves unconditionally. If anything happened to Spot’s family, she would be welcomed into my home. She knows the way quite well. For a large number of the over 2.7 million animals euthanized in the U.S. every year, there is no home to go to when their owner (or “guardian” in Boulder) dies. Apparently we can partially thank Leona Helmsley, according to an article in the UMKC Law Review, for the establishment of enforceable Pet Trusts in Colorado and 37 other states. Leona left $12 million for the care of her dog, Trouble, in trust. In a legal sense, dogs and cats are personal property and are left to heirs or beneficiaries, who may or may not want to or be able to, care for a relative’s pet. It often takes weeks to resolve issues of personal property, but you can’t just store a pet with the silver until somebody makes a decision. A Pet Trust, however, can take immediate effect upon death to provide for your pet’s care.
Trusts are typically established with designated property for specific people. Some trusts are established for a particular purpose, such as a charitable trust. Pet Trusts are often called “honorary trusts.” This is because the pet can’t enforce the provisions of a trust to take them for a walk or to give a good scratch (although many pet owners might disagree). Colorado Revised Statute § 15-11-901, provides for an enforceable trust for the care of a designated domestic animal or pet and any of the offspring in gestation. It is interesting and unusual that this statute exempts a Pet Trust from the application of the rule against perpetuities (worthy of a separate explanation) and it also specifically allows extrinsic evidence to be admitted in the event a court has to interpret a Pet Trust and determine the intent of the person who transferred property into a trust for the pet’s care. There are several options available to provide for the future care of a pet, such as a simple provision in your will for a designated person to care for your pet and with a designated amount of money. You can also set up a separate trust with a formal trust document and designate property to fund it. You can also obtain a life insurance policy to fund the trust upon your death. So if you don’t have $12 million like Leona Helmsley or a neighbor who also loves your dog, like Spot does, you can still provide for the care of your pet when you’re gone.