Family Pets Increasingly Considered in Estate Planning and Divorce

Pets are essential members of the family for many people throughout New Jersey and New York. The family pet may join families on vacation and otherwise be included in virtually all family activities. Because the family dog, cat, lizard, or horse is viewed by many as a member of the family, some owners now include their pets when constructing estate plans or fighting over “custody” during divorce proceedings.

Because family members spend so much time caring for their pets, it is natural to want to ensure that pets continue to receive a consistent level of care if something should happen to their owner. One way to provide for the continued high quality of care for one’s pet is to establish a pet trust. The trust document can appoint a trustee to care for an individual’s animals and provide sufficient funds to permit beloved pets to maintain the same standard of living as when their owner was alive. A pet trust might even specify an alternate trustee in the event your first selection is unable to take care of your animals after you die. The trust could also designate where any residual funds should go if they are not used completely during your pet’s life.

While New Jersey and New York law permit the creation of a pet trust, it must be properly drafted and funded to comply with state law and to effectively carry out your intentions. Our experienced estate planning attorneys provide legal counsel regarding estate planning decisions and accurate and effective estate planning documents that clearly articulate our client’s desired estate plan.

The proper selection of a caregiver for family pets also is becoming a growing issue in many divorce cases across the U.S. Because some divorcing couples are now running up enormous legal fees in contentious litigation over “custody” of the family dog, some couples are even including provisions for their beloved pets in prenuptial agreements.

While a full discussion of who gets the family dog in a divorce is beyond the scope of this blog post, the issue can be complicated because pets are viewed as property, which means they are part of the property distribution process rather than the subject of a custody order based on the “best interest of the dog.”

While it might seem easy to dismiss this issue as insignificant, pet custody issues are increasingly becoming a serious issue in divorce cases. A survey of the distinguished American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers revealed that nearly a quarter of the divorce attorneys indicated seeing substantial increases in pet custody cases.

We are one of the most experienced and accomplished divorce and estate planning law firms in New Jersey with more than 30 years of experience. If you have estate planning or divorce questions in NJ or NY, we invite you to call us now at (201) 690-1642 to set up a consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney in New Jersey or New York City.


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