As of 2022, an estimated 70% of U.S. households own at least one pet. Many of these households consider their pets to be family, but often, these furry family members are left out when we plan financially for life after we are gone. We often forget that our pets may outlive us; we forget to ask who will take care of the dog (or cat) upon our passing.
How do we address this issue?
Estate planning is an important part of securing your assets and your family’s financial future. Pets can be passed like property in a Will, however, a Will may not be the best choice. Your pet will need to be taken care of immediately upon your incapacitation or death. A Will can take time to go through the probate process, potentially leaving your pet unattended or uncared for. There are other options that can be utilized to be sure your pet is taken care of. When planning for your family’s future, we often set up a trust. You may have heard of a Testamentary Trust or a Living Trust, but you may not have heard of a Pet Trust. In 2010, the Georgia Legislature enacted a law allowing for the creation of Pet Trusts to ensure every member of your family is cared for and covered in your estate. Unlike a Will, a Trust is not subject to the probate process. A trust goes into effect immediately upon the terms stated in the Trust.
What is a Pet Trust?
A Pet Trust is a simple, yet necessary tool to assure your pets are financially and lovingly taken care of once you become unable to care for them. A Pet Trust creates a legal relationship between the pet owner, a trustee, a caregiver, and the pet. A Pet Trust must be created while the pet owner is alive; the trust then terminates upon the death of the pet or the death of the last remaining pet named in the trust.
What goes in the Pet Trust?
Let’s address the different parts of the Pet Trust and some of the decisions you will have to make in creating one for your furry family member:
- First you will need to select a Trustee, who of which will be in charge of the financial aspect of caring for your animal. This should be an individual that you trust with money and that you believe will make the best decision financially for your pet’s needs. They will be in charge of providing funds for veterinarian visits, food, and other various expenses that come with caring for your pet. It is also a good idea to have a backup Trustee in mind and on paper if something happens to your original Trustee.
- The second decision you must make is choosing the caregiver of your pet. The person you designate as Trustee may not necessarily be the one you wish to physically care for your pet once you are gone. It is recommended to choose a primary and secondary caregiver. The person you will want to choose as the caregiver should be someone who sees your pet and cares for your pet as you do.
- Next you will want to decide on the amount to leave in the Pet Trust. According to the ASPCA, the average costs of owning a common household pet range anywhere from $700-$1,100 per year. (It should be noted that horses have a much higher cost of maintenance than your typical household pet). You will want to set aside enough money in the trust to care for your pet for the rest of its life. Keep in mind, that it is the Trustee’s job to manage this money so that it lasts the duration of the pet’s life. Any money left upon the death of your pet can go to a designated beneficiary whom you choose and name.
- Lastly, you will want to make sure to include specific instructions on what to do as far as caring for your pet goes. You should leave nutritional instructions; instructions on how often your pet should see the vet, and provide instructions for what should happen to your pet’s remains upon its passing.
There is no better time than right now to be sure ALL your loved ones are cared for once you are gone. It is important to have a knowledgeable Wills, Trusts, & Estates attorney who will be sure that even your furry family members are provided for. Contact our expert Wills, Trusts, & Estate attorneys here at Thrift McLemore; we will make sure your family is well taken care of.