Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, reptile, horse, or other four-legged friend, more than 70% of US households own at least one pet (Source: American Pet Products Association). While many of us consider our pets as part of the family, surprisingly, these animals are not always included in our estate plans. If our pets outlive us, who will take care of them?
Georgia’s Provisions on Estate Planning for Pets
Georgia is one of several states that have provisions in place concerning pets and estate plans. In 2010, the state legislature enacted a new law that allows pet owners to create trusts specifically for their pets. The law is designed so that every member of the family is covered and cared for in your estate. Over the past several years, these estate planning tools have grown in popularity.
Through their Last Will & Testament, a pet owner can leave instructions and designate funds for the care of their pet(s). The owner would also have to name a pet guardian, because, under Georgia law, pets are considered property and not people. It’s important to note that just because a pet owner names a guardian, that doesn’t mean that the guardian is legally obligated to care for the pet. Additionally, when a pet owner leaves money in their will for the pet guardian to take care of their animals, this is considered a gift. The named guardian would receive the funds, whether they decided to take care of the pet or not.
A pet will may not be the best option, however, because of the timing. A pet needs immediate and constant care. But, in order for a Last Will & Testament to take effect, it has to go through the probate process, which can take anywhere from several weeks to more than a year. You don’t want your pets to be stranded while the legal documents and funds are being processed.
A second estate planning tool for pets is a pet trust. A trust is a legal entity that is designed to accomplish a specific goal and becomes effective immediately upon a person’s incapacity or death. There are several different kinds of pet trusts; the options are based on what the pet owner is trying to achieve. Pet trusts can designate a caretaker, distribute specific funds, or even provide instructions about how the pet should be cared for.
A pet owner creates the pet trust while they and the pet are alive. It creates a legal relationship between the pet owner, the trustee (the one who will be caring for the pet and receiving any funds), and the animal itself. Unlike a will provision, a pet trust is not subject to the probate process. When certain terms are met (ex: the pet owner is incapacitated or dies), the trust will immediately go into effect.
Have Questions? Contact Our Estate Planning Team
When you are creating an estate plan, you want to make sure that all your loved ones are taken care of – pets included. A pet trust can help ensure that your pets will be lovingly and financially supported. Brian M Douglas & Associates can help pet owners navigate the estate planning process and help you choose the best option for you and your family. Contact our experienced estate planning team at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact page. We’re always happy to help.