The Pet Trust: Protecting Your Animal After You’re Gone

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dogThe widowed aunt had written in her Will: “I give $5,000 to [nephew] if he takes care of my cat.”

The nephew put the cat to sleep.  He then demanded the five grand from his aunt’s estate. His reason: “I took care of the cat.”

They ended up in court.  And the judge wisely decided that what the aunt had meant by taking care of the cat was markedly different from what the nephew claimed she meant.

Now before you groan, it would only be fair to tell you the other side of the case. A witness testified how much the aunt had loved her cat.

But there was also evidence that the aunt knew that her nephew didn’t like her cat at all. So the aunt was picking a fight by putting this provision in her will.

We all can wince at incidents like these. They can be avoided: Rule #1: Don’t entrust your pet’s care to someone who hates your pet.  Rule #2: Don’t leave your pet to someone who’s allergic to your pet. You get the idea.

A much better route: create a Pet Trust.  A new statute now allows for them.  And a court can be used to oversee what you provide in the Trust.

Here’s the big picture:

You can choose the right person to receive a bequest to provide for your animal if you are dead or disabled. You can even provide for a succession of persons.

Or you can provide for one person to provide a home and care for your animal, using funds which you’ve entrusted to another person to hold, invest, etc. (“My pet is to live with X, and my trustee shall give X the  funds to pay for all the expenses of caring for my pet.”)

And yes, the Georgia Code allows for a trust to provide for the care of more than one animal.

Now in “human” trusts, the beneficiary can go to court if the trustee is not abiding by the trust’s terms.  Or the trustee can seek a judge’s help if the beneficiary is missing,  or the trustee is concerned about distributions to a beneficiary being squandered on drugs.

And if alive, a trust’s creator (i.e., the “grantor” or “trustor”) can ask for a court’s help if this person thinks that the trust isn’t being administered according to his or her wishes.

It’s not this easy in a Pet Trust.   Your pet is never, ever going to file a suit for a protective order, or to ask for a change in guardian. This isn’t some courtroom scene out of a cartoon, the Honorable Scooby-Doo presiding.

But Georgia law does provide that any person who’s interested in an animal’s welfare can go into court on the animal’s behalf.

This caring soul could ask the court to change the trustee because the trustee isn’t doing what the trust specifies.  Or if someone named in the Pet Trust needs to be replaced for any other good reason.

Here’s one big caution, though. The Pet Trust terms need to be done correctly and will need to be integrated with your other legal documents.  This doesn’t happen in a fill-in-the-blank form.

And no form language covers the situation if your pet is a horse, coatimundi, or spider.

Bottom line: if you want the law to help protect your pet if you’re gone, or if you’re totally disabled and not able to care for your pet, now you have a way.