Peggy Hoyt grew up in the animal welfare world as the daughter of John A. Hoyt, former CEO/President of The Humane Society of the United States. She is an animal advocate, attorney and pet mom!
She hosts a weekly “Paw-cast” (All My Children Wear Fur Coats) and is the founder/CEO of Animal Care Trust USA, Inc.- a non-profit organization whose mission is to keep loved pets in loving homes. Peggy is passionate about estate planning for pets – making sure that all pets have forever homes in the event their pet parent becomes disabled or dies.
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Hey, Peggy. Welcome to the program. Thank you, Chris. I really appreciate the opportunity to meet you and talk to your guests. Yeah, thanks so much for coming on. I’m really excited to talk to you as well. So why don’t you kind of kick us off here and give us a little bit of your backstory and kind of your journey to getting you here? Well, I have a really fun story, and I was really lucky because as a 10-year-old little girl, who was already madly in love with animals, my dad took a job as the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. And that could not have been better for me because I thought, Wow, here’s the guy that is now the head of a National Animal Welfare organization. And through his involvement, I got to meet an incredible number of people. I mean, you can only imagine, he knew a lot of celebrities. He knew a lot of people in the animal welfare world. And as a kid, I actually got to work at the Humane Society of the United States in the summers, doing computer work or filing books in the library, doing research, that kind of thing. But it kept me involved in animals, and they always were my passion.
And so later, as I was getting a little bit older, I thought, like a lot of young ladies do, I’m going to be a veterinarian, you know? So you start talking to people, about what it means to become a veterinarian. And I was talking to one of my dad’s friends, who was a veterinarian, and he said, “Oh, you know, Peggy, that’s a really long road. It’s, you know, four years of undergrad and four years of veterinary school, and then you’re really just a fledgling vet”. He says, “You really got to be committed to that.” And I don’t know why that scared me away necessarily. Because ultimately, even though I didn’t go on to become a veterinarian, I did end up going to school for a long time. I got my undergrad, and then I got my MBA and then a few years later, decided to go to law school.
So here I am, now a lawyer who still loves animals, and I’m like, Wow, how do I mix those two things into something that really I can be passionate about? And I always knew I was going to be an Estate Planning Attorney, though maybe not everybody knows that when they go to law school. But I happen to know that because I had been a financial adviser before I went to law school, and I thought, this is a great way for me to continue to help people in a non-adversarial fashion. And I also was one of those people and probably some of your listeners are, too, who say, someday I’m gonna write a book and I was one of those people and I said that, but he couldn’t think of a topic. I’m like, What can I write a book about? And ultimately, I came up with the idea of writing a book about estate planning but making sure that people included their pets, as part of their estate plan. And so I called the book “All My Children Wear Fur Coats; How to leave a legacy for your pet.” And that really started my whole journey to where I am today. Started talking to all of my clients, about planning for their pets, started preparing pet trusts for people that wanted to make sure that their pets had good, solid financing for their lifetime care, and just started meeting a lot of people in the pet industry that shared a common interest.
So one thing leads to another. You know, I wrote the book then I said, Well, let’s do a podcast and then it was, let’s do a Not for Profit organization and it just keeps kind of snowballing. But I feel like now that I’m an adult, let’s call it that, if we ever really grow up, my focus is pretty clear. It’s on estate planning, and it’s on helping people plan for their pets. Nice.
Now, what year did you write the book? That’s a tough question for me. It was probably 2010. Okay. So it’s been about 10 years ago. I rewrote it. So there’s a second edition out, actually, and it probably needs to be rewritten again, for the third edition because things keep changing. When I first wrote the book only a few states in the nation had adopted pet trust statutes. But today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, permit the creation of a pet trust for the benefit of a pet. So historically, the problem that we had was that you couldn’t create a trust that had a pet, a nonhuman as a beneficiary. Oh, sure, but now the law recognizes that you can do that. So that really opens up opportunities for pet owners, pet lovers, to do some pretty neat planning for the benefit of their pets. Very cool.
So now you said, there’s laws now in all 50 states that allow these. All 50 states and the District of Columbia, the whole area of animal law is really evolving. And, you know, I said, historically, you couldn’t have a trust that had a pet as the beneficiary. Well, one of the things that we’re still fighting in the law is that pets are still viewed as personal property. So in terms of establishing a value for a pet, we’re still kind of comparing them to tables and chairs. There are lawyers that have worked diligently to try to come up with a new category of a personal property called Sentient Property or property that has feelings, of course. And I think, a lot of our listeners, yours and mine both would agree that our pets are members of our family. They are probably priceless in our hearts, so they’re not the same as a table or a chair, and I’m really kind of happy to see where the direction of the law is going because we are starting to get greater recognition of our pets as true members of our family. Yeah, I absolutely agree. And there’s been, as you pointed out, I mean, pets are still property, but there is some interesting case law that starts to happen. There was a judge, I believe it was last year in Alaska in a divorce case, that granted custody visitation to the other person. And so, you know, my wife and I have joked for years that we could never get divorced because we spend more money fighting over who got to keep the animals. We just decided it’s cheaper to stay together, right. Right.
You know, as you said, for people that really love their animals, we can’t imagine life without them. And I’m guessing you probably know way better than me. Any idea what percentage of people actually set up a pet trust for their animals? I think there’s an estimate out there that somewhere between 10 and 27% of people have done planning for their pets. I’m not sure where that number comes from. I don’t even know if it’s verifiable. I think some people would say that they plan for their pets if they even had an inkling of who their pets were going to go to. But I think what we see more often than not is maybe a provision, a will that says, I leave my pet to my friend Kathy. And that’s one way to plan for your pet. I think it’s the riskiest way to plan for your pet because your friend Kathy may or may not be willing to take your pet, at that relevant moment. If you’re not leaving money, to go along with your pet, Kathy may or may not have the means to provide for that pet. If you’re a crazy person like me and you have three horses and seven dogs and two cats, you better be leaving some money to go with those animals or people are not going to be willing to take on that kind of responsibility.
So I think a pet trust, ultimately is the safest, most secure way to provide for your pet. But then that raises a whole new host of questions. Who’s going to manage the money? Who’s going to care for the pet? Who’s going to do the oversight? You know, there’s all of these new questions that come up and kind of like planning for minor children. Sometimes people just don’t want to put that much mental energy into thinking about this. So, there’s the problem. What’s the solution? I think the solution is acknowledging that we care enough about our pets to take the time, invest the time and the energy and the money, to make sure that we have a solid plan. One that our pets can rely on because the worst thing that could happen to our pets and I really kind of think of this in three categories is these have all happened. Number one, the pet gets let out the back door. So the family just says, I’m not going to deal with this cat, dog, whatever. Just open the back door, let him out. Fend for yourself. The second worst thing I think could happen is that they end up in a shelter. So you have a pet that’s gone from living in a loving home environment to now in a cold, loud, scary place, like a shelter, with no guarantee that they’re going to get another forever home. And then the third thing, and probably the worst thing for most of us pet owners is that your pet could actually end up euthanized, after a scary stay in a shelter.
I wouldn’t want any of those three things to happen to any of my animals and probably in my own personal planning, I’ve gone farther than a lot of people are willing to go. But I actually want my house, and my resources to go into the pet trust, to be available for my pet caregiver to live in so that if something happens to me, either disability or death, that my pets don’t have to move. They stay right where they are. Their life stays pretty much status quo, but somebody else moves into my house and takes over the day to day responsibilities. Not everybody’s gonna have that same desire, which is fine, but I have a fair number of clients who do have that desire. And then I have a certain number of clients who say, Yeah, my pets don’t need to stay at home, but I want to make sure that they have a home, so I call that forever family and make sure that they have a new forever family. And I encourage my clients to leave enough money to provide for the lifetime care of that pet. Their food, their veterinary care, catastrophic illness care, and then their final position. What’s gonna happen at the end of the pet’s life? And then there’s a certain number of clients who say, Peggy, I would be okay with my pets going to a farm, for example, the sanctuary type of environment that would be very appropriate, of course, for horses. It could be appropriate for dogs or cats to live in a more communal type of environment. Birds, certainly who have very, very long lives, might need to end up in a bird type of sanctuary. And I even have clients who have tortoises, that are planning for the very, very long life of a tortoise. So I think, as pet owners, as pet lovers, if we’re being responsible pet parents, we owe it to our pets to give this some serious thought. Yeah, I think it’s a really good point.
Now, you went so far, as you mentioned, you’ve got a podcast now, you’ve got a nonprofit. So tell me how those kind of came about, to help you educate people about this problem and actually solve this problem. It’s always interesting how the universe seems to send you the people that you need to know. And the podcast got started many years ago when a friend, an acquaintance of mine, somebody who had actually read my book, called me and introduced herself and we became friends. And then she started a podcast platform, and she asked me if I would be interested in doing this weekly podcast, and I hadn’t even thought about it before then. I jumped on the bandwagon with her and then a little later on, I met a guy from California, who wanted me to help him with a pet trust project. So he also created a podcast platform, and I moved over to that platform. And then, a few years later, broke off on my own. After I created the not for profit and created my own platform. And now I’m just, I’m still doing it on a weekly basis, just talking to people who love pets and sharing interesting ideas. It’s not all about pet planning. It’s about health and safety and wellness and new products and all kinds of interesting things, in the animal world. Yeah, I love the fact that you blend all those things together. As you said, it’s not just about the pet trust, but you’re trying to educate people and really connect them.
When you think about the mission of Animal Care Trust, is that what you visualize it to be is education or help us understand? So it really is an educational based organization. Because I think and I even built my law practice on the same platform. To educate is to motivate. So do a lot of public education to get people motivated, to think about things in a way that maybe they never thought about them before. I sometimes say my job is to teach people the questions that they didn’t even know they needed to ask. And in doing so, just raising the level of awareness about pets and what can be done in the pet world. And really, it’s just all about how do we create a better lifestyle for our pets? Yeah, absolutely. And it’s something like you said, it’s hard enough, I guess, to get people to create people trust, for their kids and things like that. I mean, taking extra levels to pet trust. And how do you figure out who the caregivers are going to be? Because I think it is just assumed that it will be your family. And, you know, as much as my family loves animals, I don’t know that they love animals as much as my wife and I love animals, and our animals come on the couch and we’ve got this whole kings and queens type of thing. I’m not sure they would have the same life with any of my brothers and sisters or even my parents.
And I think you’re right. I think a lot of people do assume that their families are going to take care of their pets. I hate to even say this out loud, but sometimes people assume that their spouses will take care of their pets, and that may or may not actually be true, and I know of at least a few examples where a spouse passed away and the surviving spouse really didn’t have the same heart for the horses or the dogs or the cats, that were left behind and those animals were rehomed. And maybe they did a good job in the re-homing. Maybe they didn’t, really hard to say. I know of at least one story that I heard of where a lady, who had been a breeder of dogs, passed away and her husband euthanized the entire kennel. I mean, those are just horror stories, that you can’t even begin to think about. But sometimes people get overwhelmed when they’ve lost a loved one, and they don’t know what they’re going to do or how to continue the relationship with the pets. So I think it’s a mistake to ever assume anything about somebody else’s willingness to take care of pets.
Now, I always jokingly say with my husband, because he says, Oh, of course, I would take care of the horses, that he affectionately refers to as the mules. And of course, I will keep our seven dogs, and two cats, but you can’t know for sure that he isn’t going to meet somebody in the future, who is more of a city girl, than a country girl, that maybe is allergic to dogs or cats. That maybe doesn’t have the same passion that I have for horses. You just can’t anticipate really, where somebody’s life is going to go after the death of a spouse. So I think that although we want to trust our spouses and we want to know that they would take good care of our animals, I’ve even planned for that possibility, that he might have another life after something happened to me. But I still want to make sure that there’s resources available for the pets and that they can still live out their lives, in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.
Where do you tell people to start? Like what advice do you give them? Because, as you said, it seems like it’s overwhelming right, which is probably why a lot of people don’t do this. Not to be too self-serving, but I think a good place to start is by reading All My Children Wear Fur Coats; How to leave a legacy for your pet. Because I really do try to walk people through all of the things that you need to think about because planning for our pets is not just, what if something happens to us, it’s also what if there’s a natural disaster and just thinking about all of the contingency plans. And then it’s thinking about your own estate planning and what have you done to plan for yourself and your assets and then taking it to the next step of how do the pets fit into this picture. So I think the book is a great place to start. I think that there are a few websites out there, AnimalCareTrustuas.org, being one, but there are others. There’s a couple of other attorneys who have gotten very proactive in writing in the Estate Planning for Pet space, and I think that we’re starting to see more and more information out there.
Tell me about this Community type Trust because you’ve got this Forever Loved Pet Trust. It was something that was unique. I had never really heard of something like a Community Trust before. So that was an idea that I wanted to make available to people who might say, I don’t want to take the time or spend the money to have a custom created pet trust. So what I did is I created a community type trust, one that people could quote-unquote join, as opposed to draft, so I kind of did the planning and the thinking for them. It’s more of a one size fits all, with a lot of ability to customize it to your individual pets. But it presumes that Animal Care Trust USA would have a role in the oversight of the resources, for the benefit of the pets.
So one of the things that Animal Care Trust does is we offer the three options for pet owners. Do you want your pet to stay at home? We call that Forever Home. Do you want your pet to be rehomed? We call that Forever Family. And then the third option is Forever Sanctuary. Do you want your pet to go to a sanctuary? And then what assets are you able to commit to, whatever your choice of those three options are, to make sure that your pets are going to be cared for. And then the Animal Care Trust Community Trust or Forever Loved Pet Trust can be the vehicle that holds that money for the benefit of the pets. Has a trustee, the organization that does the oversight, and then the pet caregiver is whomever the pets are going to be living with, on a day to day basis. Nice. That’s a really unique way to approach that. Everybody doesn’t have to create their own. They can if they choose to. But it’s a nice way to do it where you’re kind of taking care of a lot of the work for them. Right. Exactly. And there are other options out there in the marketplace that if they are not interested in having an organization like Animal Care Trusts involved. And certainly, I’m happy to talk to people offline about that. What those options are. I’m easy to find on the Internet. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. I’m out there, everywhere. Okay.
You’ve had quite the journey to get here. Is this really where you thought you’d end up? Maybe not exactly. But I’m not unhappy with where I am. For 30 plus years now, I’ve worked in the counseling field, either financial advising or estate planning. I have really amazing clients who have done wonderful things for their families and for their pets. And I think if you’re going to be any kind of a lawyer, this is probably the best kind to be, an estate planning attorney because we really get to know our clients really well. We jokingly say in our practice that we take checks, but we also take hugs to. Lately, we haven’t been getting as many of those, right now. Yeah, we’re doing virtual hugs, and we’re doing the bump sometimes, you know, knocking our fists together or hips together. But we’re still out there, serving our client base and doing education. Were just doing it online now and on the phone. And we’re all getting much better at digital technologies. Yeah, for sure.
I’m curious. Peggy, What have you learned about yourself throughout this process? Well, I continue to learn that I am committed to being passionate about pets, committed to helping people. And I love that I can meet so many interesting people and connect them to other people, like needing you and the people that we can introduce to each other. So I think that I’ve learned that I really am doing the thing that I was meant to do. And my focus gets clearer and better all the time. I love that. And I absolutely agree with you. The networking aspect and the helping animals and helping people aspect and all that absolutely right up my alley. So people can go to animalcaretrustusa.org, like you mentioned, and certainly, we recommend the book for them to get started, so they can establish their own pet trust.
Is there anything else you want to share today, Peggy before we wrap things up? I would just wish people health and happiness. And please reach out to me if you have any questions if you need some ideas or thoughts on how to plan for your pets. There are animal loss sections of the state bar associations across the United States now. So there’s lots of ways that you can get involved with people who are working towards improving laws that affect animals. I appreciate you mentioning earlier about the Alaska case in the custody of a pet. I’m gonna have the opportunity in June, presuming that all of our meetings are going on as usual, but I’m gonna have the opportunity in June to talk about pet divorce. Pet nuptials. So, yeah, and combining that with a conversation on pet trusts. So that’ll be an interesting topic. Awesome. Well, I definitely gonna become a subscriber to your podcast, and I really appreciate you coming on mine today to talk to us. It has been great learning more about this. Thank you so much.
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