Many people feel like their animals are their best friends and distinct members of the family. They buy birthday cakes and Christmas gifts for their dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles. Many older people prefer having an animal to keep them company. Look on the shelves at your home store, and they all have “Dog Mom” or “Cat Dad” merchandise. If your animals are loved equally as your children, have you accounted for their care after you pass?
It might not be well known, but it is not uncommon for people to create a trust just for their animals! By adding a Pet Trust to your estate plan, you can have peace of mind knowing that your pet will be cared for by someone you trust and that there will be enough money set aside for your pet's care if something happens to you.
Generally speaking, a Pet Trust is a trust that sets up a non-human as the beneficiary. This type of trust can be used for any type of animal from a beloved family dog to a prized show horse. In it, you can name who you want to assume ownership of your animals and leave money or assets for the chosen caretaker to care for your pet following your death or incapacity.
If you are considering creating a Pet Trust for the care and protection of your animals, we first recommend having a conversation with the person(s) you want to serve as caretaker or trustee. Caring for an animal is a serious commitment, and you want to ensure that your trustee or guardian will treat your pet the way you would in your absence. It's wise to prepare them for your hopes so that you can choose a backup caregiver or trustee if they are not interested in the responsibility.
Famously, Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her beloved dog. But, of course, her family fought this decision, and they were granted $10 million of those funds that were earmarked for her pet. When the dog finally crossed the rainbow bridge, the family donated the remaining money in the trust to charity. This was obviously not her wish for her pet or her estate. To avoid this type of contention after you are gone, make sure you clearly communicate your wishes to your family so that they do not contest your estate plan.
Ms. Helmsley's case is an extreme example, but the reality is that your animals deserve to have the same protections that your assets do. A Pet Trust helps to make sure your wishes are legally known and that your pets will be properly provided for in your absence.
If you have questions about Pet Trusts or you are considering using this tool for the protection of your animals, we are here to help! Please contact us at 770-425-6060 to schedule an appointment. We'll help you to evaluate every option and tool available to make sure your animals will be properly cared for, no matter what happens.