How to get creative with trusts – even for plants!

Want to read a news story that will make you smile? Check out the Wall Street Journal’s recent story about a woman’s trust that provides funds for her house plant.

Ronna Scoratow has no companion that has been by her side longer than her 42-year-old philodendron. It may very well be that her plant outlives her. What would happen to her plant if something happens to her? Great question!

The same question applies to your minor children, your pets, and even your plants. If you’ve poured sweat and tears into caring for a Bonsai tree, wouldn’t you want to make sure someone who cares just as much as you is prepared to step into your shoes – and perhaps more importantly, that this person has funds available to continue the high level of care you prefer?

Before you embark on a do-it-yourself version of providing funds for the ongoing care of things very close to your heart, check in with an attorney who can explain the process.

First, you can’t leave funds directly to a non-human such as a pet or plant. Instead the funds have to be left in the care of a person who is directed on how to use those funds, such as for the continuing care of your prized possession. Plenty of people have tried to leave funds directly to a pet (and even a plant it seems), and the result almost invariably is court intervention to settle disputes among beneficiaries about where the funds should ultimately go.

Next, you need to choose someone who cares about your valuables as much as you do and who you fully trust to do a good job in your memory. If you leave a lump sum of cash along with your pet or plant, the person isn’t required to account to anyone whether the funds were actually used for the care of your pet or plant. The funds could ultimately be used however the recipient wants, even if it has nothing to do with your pet or plant. This may not be so bad if the cash gift is small, say $500 or less. But beyond that you might want to consider a “pet trust” or “plant trust.”

With a trust the guardian of your pet or plant is required to account for how the funds are used for the care of the prized item you’ve leave to the trustee. This ensures that the funds are used for pet food, vet bills, plant care, and so on, versus the trustee’s own desires.

The same holds true when you plan for how your assets will provide for your minor children if something happens to you.

If you leave funds to a person outright trusting they will use it for your children, they are not legally obligated to, even if morally obligated. The funds could be used for anything under the sun and could even end up in the hands of that person’s ex-spouse or creditors.

A better idea follows the recommendation above – set up a trust where you’ve specified who benefits from your assets (for example, your children, your pet, or your plants) and then select who is in charge of the assets for the benefit of who you named. This trusted person is required to keep your beneficiary’s best interest at heart, with the added benefit that you don’t have to worry about the trustee’s ex-spouse, creditors, or anyone else who could make a claim against your children’s, pet’s, or plant’s inheritance.