In re Searight’s Estate
87 Ohio App. 417, 95 N.E.2d 779 (1950)

  • Searight died with a valid will that created an honorary trust to take care of his dog Trixie.
    • The will put $1k into an account and gave 75 cents a day to someone named Hand to care for the dog. Once the dog died, the money still in the account would go equally to several named persons.
    • Trixie was estimated to be worth about $5, not withstanding the honorary trust.
  • The Probate Court calculated how much estate taxes needed to be paid.
    • The Probate Court found that Trixie was taxable.
    • However, the $1k in the trust was not taxable, at least not yet.
    • When Trixie died and the remainder of the trust passed to the humans named in the will (aka the remaindermen), that money would be taxable at that time.
    • The Ohio Department of Taxation appealed.
      • Ohio argued that the $1k was a fee paid to Hand to look after the dog, and as such it should be taxable.
      • Ohio also argued that the trust was invalid because it violated the rule against perpetuities.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to Ohio State law, which said that tax should be levied whenever property passes to a “person, institution, or corporation.”
    • The Appellate Court found that a dog was none of those things. Therefore, no tax should be paid until the $1k actually passed to the remaindermen when Trixie died.
    • The Appellate Court found that the trust did not violate the Rule Against Perpetuities.
      • To violate the rule, you’d have to show that there was a possibility that the remainder would not get paid out more than 21 years after the death of everyone mentioned in the will.
        • In theory, if Trixie lived a hundred years, the remaindermen wouldn’t get paid until then.
      • Because there was only $1k in the trust, and it was paying out 75 cents per day, the trust couldn’t possibly last longer than 4 years.
  • Some States do not recognize honorary trusts or gifts in favor of animals.
    • In these States, a trust with provisions to maintain a pet or an inanimate object is usually considered void.
      • The theory is that the beneficiary holds equitable title and needs to be diligent in enforcing the obligations of the trustee, but Trixie’s grasp of investment strategies isn’t high enough to ensure that the trustee is investing the money properly.
    • To get around this, a testator can bequeath the pet to a human and can make an inter vivos trust to the human conditional on them taking care of the pet.
  • An honorary trust is not a charitable trust, and so it is covered by the Rule Against Perpetuities. That means that the trust cannot have any conditions that go further than 21 years past the life of all lives in being at the time the instrument is executed.
    • In theory, an honorary trust to benefit a pet (like a giant tortoise) could last a really long time. In this case the trust was designed to provide money to the dog as a life estate, and then give the remainder to someone else. Since the dog could theoretically live longer than 21 years past the death of the last life in being, this trust could violate the Rule Against Perpetuities because the condition giving out the remainder might not come into effect until after the 21 year limit.
      • However, the trust looked at the fact that the trust is bled 75 cents per day and so will be gone in about 4 years. Therefore the trust couldn’t possibly last for longer than 21 years, so there is no violation of the Rule Against Perpetuities.
      • If the Court had decided that the trust could violate the Rule Against Perpetuities, then it is invalid immediately. The money in the trust goes with the remainder of the testator’s estate.
      • Some States have specific Statutes eliminating this Rule Against Perpetuities problem for honorable trusts.