ST. PAUL – In California, you can make sure your cat is cared for. In Wisconsin, you can guarantee your Great Dane is treated with grace. But, in Minnesota, your pet might not be pampered when you pass on.
Minnesota is the only state in the union without a law explicitly permitting animal owners to create trusts to care for their loved creatures should the owner be unable to do so.
Rep. Dennis Smith, likely with his dog, Reagan, along as a lobbyist, planned to make the case to his colleagues Thursday morning that it is time for Minnesota to end that unique designation.
"There have been some problems ... There is a need for this," said Smith, a Republican from Maple Grove.
Importantly, he is also an animal lover who has at least two photos of his golden retriever mixed-breed pup in his tidy legislative office and who features his dog, along with his wife and children, on his campaign website. An attorney, he said his clients consider gifts to their animals in their estate planning about one-third of the time.
Right now in Minnesota, residents can designate money in their wills for their four-legged friends, but there is no legal requirement that the cash be spent on the animals. In other states that allow for animal trusts, that is not the case. In a trust, any case left for the care of an animal is legally required to be spent on the critter. When the fuzzy, furry, scaly or shelled animal dies, any money left in the trust could go to other heirs, be distributed as instructed in the trust's terms or by a court.
Unlike leaving money in a will, the terms of a animal trust could also allow payment for care for an animal when its owner, though still alive, can no longer manage it. A trust would not allow the person who creates it to avoid debts or taxes out of his or her estate, Smith said. That means it would not cost the state anything to adopt an animal trust law.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Wisconsin's law has allowed people to leave money in trusts to animals since 1969. Louisiana and Kentucky, among the last states on board, adopted animal trust laws last year.
Although there were periodic attempts to adopt a similar law here, Minnesota has been left behind.
"I think it's maybe that there wasn't enough of a pet lover to come along and move it along," joked Smith, who assumed responsibility for persuading colleagues to support the measure last week. Smith said he knows that many legislators love their pets. Indeed, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Stanford Township, said he might bring one of his two black Labs to Thursday's hearing to add to the spirit of canine devotion.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored the companion measure last year and won a hearing for it, but the measure never received a full Senate vote.
Smith said that if the measure becomes law this year, he will set up a trust for his pup "immediately."
"She's a big part of our family," he said.