When a celebrity passes away, Georgia will and trust lawyers often watch for news of their affairs, hoping that the celebrity in question had a great estate plan in place. With the recent loss of comedian Joan Rivers, it was reassuring to see that she had planned well for her loved ones, including her pets.
At the time of her death, Rivers’ estate was worth approximately $150 million, and she clearly knew that estate planning was no joking matter. Most of her assets were left to her daughter Melissa and her grandson Cooper. However, the celebrity also took the additional step of setting up a pet trust for her four dogs.
How Pet Trusts Work
Pet trusts have become somewhat popular these days, which is great news for companion animals who have been left behind. Not only will the person creating the trust designate a guardian for the pets, he or she will also set aside funds for the animals’ upkeep. There is also a trustee named who is in charge of the financial aspects of the trust. In some cases, the guardian or caretaker is also the trustee, but in others a separate person is designated. The trustee disperses funds to the guardian, lessening the likelihood of the guardian misusing the money for his or her own benefit. An additional safeguard is to photograph or microchip your pets so that fraud cannot be committed later.
Better Than a Will
While your Georgia pet trust lawyer may still encourage you to have a will in order to disperse your estate, those wanting to provide for their pets are probably better off creating an additional pet trust. Animals are not allowed to own property, so leaving anything to a pet via your will is unlikely to work. Instead, a pet trust is set up specifically for the animal’s benefit while having the oversight and management of actual humans.
The terms of trusts are not typically made public (one of the reasons Georgia will and trust lawyers like them so much), so it’s not really known how much Joan Rivers provided in her pet trust. What is known is that her long-time assistant Jocelyn Pickett will be the dogs’ caretaker. Many organizations are excited about the fact that such a high-profile celebrity has created a pet trust, hoping that it brings awareness to the possibility and improves the lives of animals whose owners pass away.
Most of us who have a pet consider them to be a part of the family; unfortunately, the plans we may have so carefully put together to protect our loved ones do not take our pets into consideration.
According to the ASPCA, only about 17% of dog and cat owners have taken the necessary legal steps to ensure their pets are cared for after they die. Most of us assume that because our close family members know how much our pets mean to us, someone in the family will take responsibility for our pets after we are gone. However, many pets that outlive their owners wind up in shelters because no formal provisions have been made for them.
Almost every state, including Georgia, has laws that allow pet owners to create a trust for the care of their pets. You can create a Georgia pet trust that would go into effect upon your death or if you become incapacitated and unable to care for your pet. To ensure there are proper checks and balances, you may want to consider naming one person to serve as trustee to handle the money, and another person as your pet’s caregiver, who would be responsible for the day-to-day care of your pet.
In your trust, you can detail exactly how your pet is to be treated – how many vet and groomer visits per year, what the pet should be fed, and any special medical needs that will require special attention. You will need to fund your pet trust sufficiently to cover your pet’s anticipated life span, including a cushion if your pet lives longer and needs additional medical care.
Don’t make the mistake of providing for your pet in your will since probate could tie it up for months in court, but you could make mention of the existence of your pet trust in your will.
If you would like more information about protecting your loved ones – including your pets — call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. You can begin by calling our office today at 770-425-6060 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is worth $750 but is offered to readers of this blog for free. It is a two hour in-depth consultation with an attorney who concentrates his practice in estate planning for families with minor children. Call us today and mention this “PET CARE” article.
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Wills and trust attorneys in Atlanta see a variety of situations both before and after our clients pass away. While family bickering and grief are certainly a darker aspect to what we do, there is another situation that often brings about difficulty. What happens to a pet when you pass away?
This isn’t something that every will and trust lawyer in Atlanta thinks to mention, but it is something worth considering. In an ideal world, a family member or good friend would willingly take in your pet and love it as his or her own. Unfortunately, that just isn’t always the case. Instead of relying on this best-case scenario, you may want to consider making some decisions ahead of time to ensure that your pet is cared for as you would prefer.
Not only can an attorney in Atlanta incorporate your pet into your will or trust, but if you wish, a special trust (a Pet Trust) can be set up. Things don’t necessarily need to be this elaborate, but it is something that many clients choose. Whether creating a trust or not, you will want to determine who will be your pet’s guardian should you die or become otherwise incapacitated.
A word to the wise: Make sure that the person or organization you name as guardian is aware of this and has agreed to the role!
Some humane societies and SPCAs are willing to become your pet’s guardian if you do not have an individual that is able to do so. It’s important to note, however, that you still need to make this arrangement official. Check out the web sites for (or call) animal organizations in Atlanta to see who offers such services.
For example, the SPCA’s of some states have a “Guardian Angel Future Care Program.” Pet owners can enroll in the program and supply important information about their pets, including health records and even information about his or her daily schedule, preferences, etc. The SPCA then works to match your pet with the best possible adoptive family.
They also offer some good advice when it comes to including your pet in your estate planning:
- Make sure the guardian you choose has the same values as you do.
- Microchip your pets and put IDs on their collars so they can be returned if they get lost.
- Leave only a reasonable amount of money for the care of a pet, as larger amounts are more likely to be contested and to cause difficulty for the person designated to manage the fund.
- Consider a situation where you and someone else have a reciprocal agreement. If you are killed or incapacitated, they will take your pets. If the other person is killed or incapacitated, you will take theirs.
- Have your estate planning lawyer include your wishes in the will and make them known to family members and the executor when the will is drafted.
If you would like more information about using estate planning tools such as wills and trusts to ensure your pets are protected if something happens to you, please contact our Atlanta wills and trusts attorney at 770.425.6060 to schedule a complimentary planning session with the mention of this article.
No matter how much you love your pets and feel they are “part of the family,” they are generally seen as property by the Georgia probate courts, including those in Cobb County, Fulton County and other metro Atlanta probate courts and are therefore treated accordingly. This can cause some concern for pet owners who want to ensure their pets are well-cared-for and able to transition as smoothly as possible after the death or incapacitation of an owner.
One option which many Georgia pet owners are now exercising is to create a Georgia pet trust. This type of trust is used to protect the pet in case you are unable to do so. The trust will likely specify your chosen pet guardian, which can either be an individual or an organization. This entity will be responsible for taking care of the pet either until the owner is able to do so again or permanently, depending upon the situation. In the latter case, it may even be necessary for the entity to arrange to officially adopt the pet.
Guidelines When Choosing a Pet Guardian In Atlanta
For best protection, the guardian should be approached in advance to ensure he/she/it is willing and able to take on the responsibility of caring for your pet in your absence. This is not the kind of thing you want sprung on a person unexpectedly, especially when your ultimate goal is to ensure the safety and comfort of your pet.
It’s a good practice to provide the named guardian with a copy of the trust, which provides legal justification for him or her to take the pet. This can be especially important if you face an unexpected catastrophic event of some type. Police are unlikely to allow a friend or neighbor to remove your “property” from your home while you are incapacitated, which means your pet may be left in the house alone for any length of time. Having the pet trust means the guardian is permitted to take care of the pet immediately.
Funding the Pet Trust
There are some good arguments for providing at least some funding for the pet trust, either through an amount of money set aside or as a beneficiary of an insurance policy or some sort of account. It is reasonable to provide for food and veterinary costs for the expected duration of the pet’s life. Of course, the choice of whether or not to fund the trust is up to you, and many guardians are perfectly willing to take on the financial aspects of caring for your pet. If someone refuses to be your pet’s guardian unless they are given something substantial for themselves, it may be a good idea to reconsider your choice and ensure you are a choosing a pet guardian in Atlanta who truly has your beloved pet’s best interests at heart.
There is no doubt we are a nation of pet lovers. Unfortunately, the Georgia law as it is currently written views pets as property, so providing for your pet in your will won’t work. So how do you protect your favorite fur-person? With a pet trust.
To create a pet trust, you should first discuss your wishes for your pet(s) with a Cobb County estate planning attorney and pet trust lawyer so your pet trust will be executed properly and will be legally enforceable after you are gone.
When planning for your Georgia pet trust, you should:
- Choose someone to act as trustee. Be sure you discuss your intentions beforehand with your potential pet trustee to ensure they are both willing and able to carry out your wishes.
- Choose a successor trustee. If your first choice for trustee is unable to act as trustee, a second person should be named as successor trustee.
- Choose caregivers. Some people elect to name a financially responsible individual as trustee and another person as caregiver for their pet(s). Be sure to specify a primary and secondary caregiver.
- Provide ID information. To help prevent fraud, you should include identification information in your pet trust, including photos of your pet(s) and microchip ID numbers.
- Give care instructions. Provide care details for your pet(s), including how often they should be taken to the vet for check-ups, nutritional requirements and any other healthcare information.
- Establish how much money is needed to care for your pet(s). You need to be realistic, because large amounts left for pets could be subject to a challenge from other heirs. Be sure to figure in the cost of trust administration as well.
- Select a beneficiary. When the last pet you have provided for in your pet trust dies, you should name the person or entity that will receive the leftover funds in the trust.
- Supply final instructions. Leave instructions for having your pet(s) buried or cremated.
If you’d like to learn more about how to provide for loved ones after you’ve gone or have other estate planning questions, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next five people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.