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What Happens to a Pet when Owner Dies?

April 25, 2022 •  Legacy Law LLC
While it’s never fun or pleasant to think about what will happen to them if the worst should happen to us, it’s very important to consider how we can ensure that they are well cared-for when and if we are no longer able to care for them ourselves.

Pet trusts are a legally binding arrangement in which the donor (the person creating the trust) formally outlines their wishes for how they want their pet to be cared for.

A few more people are involved in a pet trust, according to the article “’Paws-ing’ to plan: How you can ensure your pet’s future well-being with pet trust planning” from The Gilmer Mirror. A trustee oversees the way trust funds are dispensed, a caretaker, who is in charge of the pet’s care and an enforcer, who makes sure the donor’s wishes are followed. Donors may appoint a caretaker of their choice, or work with an agent to find someone suitable for their pet.

Unlike an informal promise to care for a pet made by a well-meaning friend or family member, the pet trust is legally enforceable, giving it more "teeth” than a verbal promise. There is nothing to stop the person you leave your pet with from doing whatever they wish with the pet, from leaving the pet at a shelter to selling the pet. With a trust, all parties are bound to use the money for its intended purposes and to follow pet care instructions.

What can you ask your pet’s caretaker to do? Anything you feel is necessary. It can be as basic or as detailed as you wish. The pet could be cared for as they were by you, with the same kind of food, attention and affection. They can also continue to be seen by the same veterinarian, if one is named in the trust.

Pet planning has become increasingly popular, as more people see their pets as members of the family. However, pet trusts are not just for house cats or dogs. Work animals, show animals, specially trained service and companion animals and animals used for breeding are also protected by pet trusts.

A pet trust could ensure the future of a highly trained show jumper, or to ensure a working dog ends up at a farm where she continues to herd sheep.

Pet trusts are especially important for people with service animals. A blind person who has bonded with a seeing-eye dog may only wish another blind person to inherit a seeing-eye dog. The trust could ensure that animals who have been trained to provide emotional support, or to detect health conditions like seizures, should go to individuals with these same challenges.

Individuals who live with highly trained service animals should consult an experienced estate planning attorney along with the organization that trained the animal to ensure a pet trust is created within the scope and requirements of the organization, as well as the wishes of the owner. The organization may be better able to place the animal, while adhering to the pet trust’s requirements.

A pet trust helps protect our beloved animal companions and provides peace of mind for their humans. It should be part of your overall estate plan and should be updated regularly.

Reference: The Gilmer Mirror (March 23, 2022) “’Paws-ing’ to plan: How you can ensure your pet’s future well-being with pet trust planning”

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