How Does a Pet Trust Work?
Humane treatment of animals has evolved over the years to the point that in every state in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia, there are legal provisions that allow pet owners to set up a trust for their pets so the pets will be cared for after the owner’s demise.
This has become a popular tool, especially for older adults who would love to have the companionship of a pet but worry the pet will outlive them and end up abandoned. Many scientific studies have found positive benefits to having pets in later years of life, including people getting more physical activity and social interaction. That can lead to better outcomes for conditions like blood pressure and cholesterol. Having a pet can improve mental health as well.
All these positives make having a pet an attractive aspect of life. Knowing that they’ll be cared for humanely and lovingly after the owner’s passing can bring additional peace of mind and allow the owner to thoroughly enjoy the time they have with their pet.
To do that, properly setting up a pet trust is crucial. Ensuring that the trust is legally enforceable is recommended, so working with estate planning attorneys who are experienced in trusts is key. What’s required and allowed varies from state to state. Here’s what you need to know in Georgia.
What Is a Pet Trust?
Like a trust that someone would create to make sure their assets are properly cared for and distributed after their death, a pet trust allows a pet owner to designate someone (or an organization) to care for the pet as well as set aside funds to be used for the pet’s care.
The trust becomes active after the original owner’s death and lasts until all pets listed in the trust have passed away, whether one or multiple.
What Do I Need to Do to Set Up a Pet Trust in Georgia?
There are several decisions and steps to setting up a pet trust, and working with an experienced trust attorney can help ensure the process goes smoothly.
- Choose a trustee. This is an important role. The trustee will manage the trust and carry out your wishes as established in the trust. Depending on the size of the trust, this can be a significant role, so be sure the person you choose understands what they’re taking on and that they’re comfortable with it. You could also consider using a lawyer or accountant in this role.
- Name a back-up trustee. Because of the importance of the role, it’s a good idea to have a backup trustee ready to go if the original trustee is unable to perform the duties when the time comes.
- Choose who will care for the pets. This may be the trustee, or it may be someone else, which can provide a system of checks and balances–the trustee and the caregiver can each monitor how the trust and care are working. As with the trustee, the person chosen for this role must understand what they may be taking on and agree to it. The day-to-day care of a pet can be an enormous undertaking, especially if the pet has special needs, such as regular medications or medical conditions that need additional care.
- Choose a backup caregiver. Just as with the trustee, it’s safer to have a backup plan in case the primary caregiver can’t manage the responsibilities of your pets when the time comes. Another option to consider is that if the worst happens and neither caregiver can take care of your pet, you can designate a specific no-kill shelter that could find a new, loving home for your pet. In some communities, there are shelters that specialize in caring for senior pets, and listing one of them in your trust is also an option.
- Set up detailed care instructions. What is the typical day in the life of your pet? Detail it for the caregiver. If the pet prefers a specific routine, ensure the caregiver knows it. Also, provide all the details of related care for the pet, such as veterinarian, trainer, pet walker or sitter, etc.
- Determine the amount of money for the pet. Look at the expenses you incur for your pet, including food, vet care, pet daycare, walking, or sitting, and any other expenditures such as new toys or bedding, and create a plan that balances against the pet’s life expectancy. It’s a good idea to err on the side of overfunding the trust in case the pet lives longer than expected.
- Decide who should get the remaining funds if the pet(s) die before all the money is used. This is up to you. You can name anyone to be the beneficiary of any remaining funds. That can be the caregiver, trustee, an animal shelter, or someone else entirely.
- Determine what should be done with the pet reaches the end of its life. If you’d like your pet to be cremated or buried or other arrangements made, detail that in the trust and ensure it’s adequately funded.
How Can I Learn More about Setting Up a Pet Trust?
Call us as soon as possible at 770-758-6832 to request an in-depth, no-obligation strategy session. We understand that beloved pets are indeed family members, and you want to provide for them after you’re gone. Setting up a pet trust is an excellent way to achieve that.
Our experienced, knowledgeable team of trust attorneys will guide you through the options and advise you on the decisions you need to make, helping you gain the peace of mind of knowing your pet will be protected.