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Estate planning can now include long-term care for pets

When planning their estates, many people are careful to provide for their spouses, children and other loved ones. Some may remember to include their alma maters or a special charity. Additionally, it is becoming more common for pet owners to make stipulations about their animal companions in their estate planning.

Pet trusts are valid elements of an estate plan in nearly every state, including Tennessee. Like other types of trusts, the person establishing the trust, called the settlor, funds the trust with money for the care of any pets if the settlor should die or become unable to care for them. The trust then designates a caregiver who can use the trust's funds for the needs of the animals.

The settlor can be very specific about the way the caregiver must treat the animals. For example, the caregiver may be instructed to provide a certain brand of pet food, take the animals to a particular veterinarian or even exercise the pets at a certain time of day. The settlor must then fund the trust adequately so those directions can be carried out and provide instructions for how the caregiver will receive the money for that purpose.

Most states place a limit on the length of time a pet trust can continue, although in some cases, the trust expires when the last pet that was alive during the settlor's lifetime dies. Since some exotic birds and other pets can outlive their owners by decades, it will be important to ensure the trust is funded adequately. The trust should also provide details about the settlor's wishes for the disposition of the pets when they die. Additionally, if the pets should die before the trust funds have been exhausted, the trust should include the name of a beneficiary to receive any leftover money.

Pet trusts are a relatively new element of estate planning. Each state has its own regulations and limits regarding the provisions for animals in a trust. To fully understand the law in Tennessee, those planning their estate can seek the advice of an experienced attorney.

Source: aspca.org, "Pet Trust Primer", Accessed on July 7, 2017

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