The idea of including a pet in an estate plan can sound silly if you are a younger person. Surely you will outlive your dog or cat, and in many cases, pets are owned by the entire family. Even if something horrible was to take place unexpectedly, there would still be people around to care for the pet.
This make sense, but the question of pet planning is very relevant for a certain segment of our population.
Senior Citizens and Loneliness
As elder law attorneys, we keep a finger on the pulse of the challenges that senior citizens face, and loneliness is one of them. If you are retired and widowed, and you have lost friends and extended family members, your social interactions can become quite limited.
This can decrease your quality of life in a general sense, but in some people, it can cause depression. A pet could provide much-needed companionship, and there are other benefits that they provide.
If the pet is a dog, they need to go out for walks, and this will give you a reason to get some exercise in your own right. This is beneficial from a physical health standpoint, and it is also good for your mental and emotional well-being.
When you are at the park or the dog park, you will invariably run into people, and you can strike up conversations with other dog lovers. A dog can act as a protector, and small dogs may not pack much of a punch physically, but they can certainly make a lot of noise.
Experts have stated that pet ownership can have measurable health benefits for lonely seniors. Clearly, this can be a great solution if you are in this position, but any responsible person would have longevity concerns.
If you want to bring a pet into your home as a senior citizen, it is possible to make sure that the pet is properly provided for if you predecease your four-legged companion.
Years ago, states started to recognize pet trusts, and the idea caught on. At this point, you can create a legally binding pet trust in all 50 states.
When you establish a pet trust, you would fund it and empower a trustee to act as the trust administrator. This can be someone that you know personally, but trust companies and the trust departments of banks provide trustee services.
We should point out the fact that a trustee that is not a corporate trustee could act as the caretaker for the pet, but this is not required.
You would record instructions with regard to the way that you want your pet to be cared for after your passing if you do in fact die first. The trustee would have a fiduciary duty to follow your instructions to the letter.
At this point, a question may come to mind: What happens to money that is left in the trust after the death of the pet? The answer is that it is up to you. When you draw up the trust agreement, you name a successor beneficiary that would step into the role after the pet is gone.
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