Leona Helmsley famously left more than a billion dollars to her maltese, “Trouble.” But Trouble isn’t rich. Trouble is a dog, and non-human animals cannot own property. There are some people who would like to change this, but they haven’t succeeded yet. So, what happened to that money? Mrs. Helmsley left it to the trustee of a “pet trust.” What exactly the trust says, we don’t know. Unless it is the subject of a law suit, the contents of a trust are private between the trustee and the beneficiaries.
For the same reason that Leona could not leave the money to Trouble directly, Trouble cannot be the beneficiary of “his” trust. The beneficiary must be some human, who is directed to take care of Trouble and will receive a stipend and expenses as long as he or she does. On Trouble’s passing, the remaining assets in the trust will presumably go to some other person or to charity.
So, at least three humans have to be involved in a pet trust. The original owner, who is called the “Trustmaker” created the trust. The person taking care of the money is called the “Trustee.” The person taking care of the animal is the “Caretaker.” Whoever receives the money when the animal is gone is the “Remainder Beneficiary.” This last can be a worthy charity such as a rescue organization.
So, if you want to create a pet trust, then, you need at least two other people – one to take care of the animal, and one to take care of the money. Why can’t you have just one? You can, of course, leave the animal and the money to the same person. But you would not have the kind of accountability that you would have if the caretaker has to go to the Trustee for money. The caretaker/Trustee would be free to spend the money on anything he or she wanted.
Many people just leave the animal to a potential caretaker with a sum of money sufficient to compensate the person for any expenses. This is better than not taking thought for the fate of the animal at all. People tend to assume that they will outlive their pets, or that some kind soul among their relatives will take them in. Given the reputation of her dog, Leona Helmsley could be fairly sure that would not happen. She had the money, so she chose to make really sure that it would be in someone’s interest to take good care of Trouble.