Future Returns: Why Fido Needs a Trust
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Future Returns: Why Fido Needs a Trust

When it comes to estate planning, pets need to be considered, too.

Wed, Apr 20, 2022 10:21amGrey Clock 4 min

Many well-off pet owners have left millions of dollars to their cats, dogs, and even chickens—perhaps most notoriously Leona Helmsley, who left US$12 million when she died in 2007 to her white Maltese dog Trouble.

But because pets are considered property, individuals can’t directly bequeath money to their dog or cat. Instead, they should make some type of arrangement to care for their beloved animals should they become incapacitated or die, according to Annamaria Vitelli, head of PNC Private Bank Hawthorn.

“Pet trusts are often thought of as something wealthy eccentric folks would do,” Vitelli says. “But now it’s becoming mainstream.”

The reason? Close to 70% of households in the U.S. own a pet, she says, so “70% of households need to think about this.”

Also, as of 2016, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have created statutory provisions for pet trusts, Vitelli says.

At Hawthorn, pets often come up in wealth planning as advisors get to know and understand the families they work with and recognize the value they place on their critters. As the bank has worked more with families in Texas, they are also having conversations with ranch owners about what will happen to horses that aren’t part of a working farm, but are pets, Vitelli says.

Penta recently spoke with Vitelli about what pet owners need to consider when ensuring the care of their non-human loved ones.

Selecting a Caregiver

Whatever plan a family creates for their pet’s future, the main consideration is designating a reliable caregiver, Vitelli says.

Many pet owners have trusted family members and friends who already lend a hand in caring for their pets. Those who don’t have that kind of social network should research organizations that care for animals or animal sanctuaries that can provide for a pet with money set aside by the pet owner.

Vitelli recalls a client who had a parrot and was concerned about who would care for her bird when she died because some parrots can live for 100 years. “The parrot went to a bird sanctuary with their stipend and was being cared for at the sanctuary,” Vitelli says.

It’s also important pet owners let the caregiver they designate know their intentions and understand what’s involved. “You may have the perfect person in your mind, but you shouldn’t spring it on them at the reading of the will—start talking to them now,” she says.

Some potential caregivers may simply not want to do it, or they may be precluded from taking in a pet for some reason. Also, because a caregiver’s circumstances can change, no longer allowing them to care for a pet, it’s important to name a successor who can step in, Vitelli says.

Picking a Pet Trust

Once a caregiver is selected, pet owners can simply set up an informal arrangement with them that includes funds bequeathed in their will to cover costs. But there is no way to legally ensure that any funds designated this way are used to care for a pet. That may not be an issue for those who can rely on trustworthy family members or friends. But for those who have doubts, or don’t have the perfect person to rely on, it’s best to create a more formal structure.

“As much as we love our pets, the law doesn’t recognize pets as people. They are a piece of property, so once you give that property away, how it’s treated by the person who takes it on is not anything you can enforce,” Vitelli says.

Setting up a pet trust can create that assurance. The simplest is a traditional trust, which would be governed by general trust law. In this case, a pet owner needs to name a beneficiary (the caregiver) and needs to fund the trust with sufficient money to care for the pet. A trust also requires a trustee, most likely another individual who can make sure any funds distributed from the trust are spent according to a pet owner’s wishes, and that the pet is healthy and safe.

“So long as the trust complies with the law of the state in which it is created, and state law enforces conditional distributions from a trust, the care of your pet can be enforced in court,” according to a note to client from PNC Private Bank.

State Law Matters

Another option is a statutory trust, which would be governed by the law of each specific state. As with a traditional vehicle, a statutory trust is enforceable, although it must comply with state law. Because these laws can be wildly different state-to-state, it’s important to work with an attorney who knows the statute and can draft a trust.

Pennsylvania, for instance, requires a trust to end when the last pet covered by the contract dies, while other states may limit the trust’s length to at most 21 years. While that accounts for the life of most pets, many animals can live longer.

PNC advises clients to put a reasonable amount of money in a trust to cover a pet’s needs throughout its life, and to make a plan for unused funds to be returned to their estate. But how much is reasonable? That can be difficult for some families to decide, particularly when they are childless and pets stand in for two-legged family members. “It has more to do sometimes with the endearment of that pet to that family member,” Vitelli says.

Also, some states limit how much money a pet can receive, and, as is the case in Florida, penalize “overfunding.” In the year after Helmsley died, for instance, a Manhattan surrogate court judge reduced her dog Trouble’s inheritance from US$12 million to US$2 million, awarded US$6 million to two grandchildren who had been disinherited, and had the remainder go to Helmsley’s charitable fund.

“You just want to make sure you’re not running afoul of a judge’s sensibilities and state rules,” Vitelli says.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).


People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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