We have all seen or heard the news stories with eccentric billionaires and millionaires leaving vast fortunes to their pets. In Germany, a countess left $106 million to her German shepherd, Gunter III. In Italy, a woman left approximately $13 million to her cat, Tommaso. This phenomenon also occurs in America as New York hotel heiress Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her dog, Trouble. Can this happen in North Dakota? Can I leave my estate to my pet? Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, options are available for you and your pets to provide for their care after your death.
Pets are considered property in North Dakota, and you cannot leave your estate to property. Prior to 2007, pet owners were left with great uncertainty as to what would happen to their pets after their death. At the time, wills could be drafted giving the animal to another person, but there was no guarantee that the person would not give away or sell the animal let alone care for the animal. To remedy this issue, the North Dakota legislature passed H.B. 1034 in 2007.* H.B. 1034 provided for the creation of trusts for the care of animals.
H.B. 1034 created the North Dakota Century Code section 59-12-08, which states that a trust may be created for the care of an animal alive during your lifetime and that the trust terminates after the death of your animal. A pet trust will allow you to leave assets and detailed instructions as to who shall care for your pets and how they shall be cared for. Any remaining assets in the trust after your animal’s death will be distributed to a person or charity you designate as the beneficiary. There are limits on pet trusts in North Dakota, however, as the assets or value of assets given to the trust may not exceed what is required for the care of the animal.
Pet ownership in the United States is on the rise. In 2012, approximately 43 million households own dogs, and 36 million households own cats in the United States. This means that approximately 36.5% of households in the United States own dogs and approximately 30.4% of households in the United States own cats. These numbers have grown, and these numbers do not include households owning birds, horses, or other animals. Furthermore, it is estimated that 6 to 8 million dogs and cats end up in shelters each year, and it is estimated that 3 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year. Without a plan for your pet after your death, it is possible that your pet may end up without a home and in a shelter or worse.
Even if you are not a billionaire or millionaire, a pet trust can give you peace of mind that your pets will be cared for after your death. A pet trust as a stand-alone creation or as part of a complete estate plan will provide you with the comfort needed to ensure that your pet will be cared for.
If you have any questions regarding pet trusts or other estate planning documents, we welcome your call at Severson, Wogsland & Liebl in Fargo. And as always, if you have general questions about estate planning, including probate, health care directives, living wills, wills, trusts, power of attorney, and asset protection, contact the Estate Planning Team at Severson, Wogsland & Liebl by calling 701-297-2890.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
*To date, 49 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted pet trust laws. The only state that has yet to enact a pet trust law is Minnesota, but a bill has been introduced to add it to the law in 2016. If you own pets in Minnesota, there are other options you may consider at this time. Please contact us by calling 701-297-2890 if you have any questions about caring for your pets after your death in Minnesota.