Is a Pet Trust Right for Your Estate Plan in Tennessee?

Posted by John Crow | Aug 12, 2019 | 0 Comments

At one time, my mother had 8 dogs, 2 cats, a bird, and many fish. She loves animals. In fact, when she was a child, she grew up with a parrot, a monkey, and a sheep. She treats her pets like her children and best friends. My mom is not alone. More and more people consider pets as part of their family. These pets are often offered the same kind of love and attention as many children are given. They act as your support when you are emotionally down. They assist elderly persons cope with life and the problems that come with aging. Pets can even help children thrive in school, according to a recent study.

Pets are our family. But Tennessee laws do not recognize these animals as family. Rather, your pet is considered personal property. As such, your pet will be passed on to your beneficiaries or heirs like any other property. In practice, most family members will work among themselves to decide who will care for your pets. But that may not be what you want. You may prefer to ensure your pet is cared for by a particular person and under a certain standard of care. This desire may be especially true if you make money from your animal - such as a show dog or racehorse. 

Here's an overview of how you can care for your pet in the State of Tennessee in case something happens to you.

How can you protect your pets in Tennessee if something happens to you?

If you care about what happens to your pet in the event something happens to you, then you can consider bequeathing your pet in your last will and testament. You can even establish animal trust in Tennessee, commonly known as a pet trust.

Pets always rely on their owners for their basic needs: housing, food, love. We become so attached to our pets, we often worry about their futures just as we do about our human-loved ones. 

pet trust can help you provide long-term care for your animal. For your pet trust, you should consider designating:

  • a person to manage the trust funds; and
  • another person to care for the pet.

By designating two persons as such, they can both act as a "checks and balances" system to ensure (1) optimal care for the pet; and (2) proper use of the trust funds.

The pet trust should also consider the pet's average lifespan (e.g., a dog's life expectancy is half that of a horse).

Requirements of a Pet Trust in Tennessee

While Tennessee law does recognize trusts for animals, there are some simple requirements that must be met in order to establish this trust. Here are those requirements:

  • The trust must end at the death of the animal, or
  • If there are more than one (1) pet, the trust must end at the last to die of all pets

Under no circumstances shall a pet trust last longer than ninety (90) years. Additionally, if there are excess funds in this trust that go beyond the animal's needs, then those funds must be given to the creator of the trust or to his/her successors in interest. So if you create a trust for your golden lab and fund it with $1 million, chances are that your pup will not need access to the full $1 million for its lifetime. As such, those funds must go back to you or the remindermen of the trust.

Who should consider a pet trust in Tennessee?

If you are considering forming an estate plan, you should also consider a pet trust if you worry about the care of a pet after you are gone.

Whether you are young and single, retried, or terminally ill, estate planning is always a good idea. Life events can happen unexpectedly. And if you have an animal that brings you love and companionship, consider adding a pet trust to your estate plan.

What types of pets can be designated beneficiaries of estate planning?

In Tennessee, a person or a family may enjoy and care for any number of pets. Common pets that are often considered in estate plans include:

  • horses (average lifespan of 25-30 years)
  • birds (average lifespan varies greatly from 15-60 years)
  • dogs (average lifespan of 10-13 years)
  • cats (average lifespan of 12-18 years)
  • fish (average lifespan of 1-10 years)
  • mice (average lifespan of 2-3 years)
  • lizards (average lifespan varies greatly from 5-40 years).

If you have a pet that you want to make sure is cared for in the event you die, consider a pet trust. It does not have to be elaborate. But the trust does have to be properly drafted and executed. If you have questions, contact John Crow, an experienced estate planning lawyer in Tennessee, to get the advice and answers you need.

About the Author

John Crow

John Crow is the founder of Crow Estate Planning and Probate, PLC, a boutique law firm with offices in Clarksville, Tennessee and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He has extensive experience in guiding people through the important and often complex decisions surrounding wills, trusts, probate, conservatorships, and business formations.


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