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by Calley Gerber, JD

If you are anything like me, you love your dog more than just about anything in this world. Thinking about what will happen to him (or her) if you pass on before he does is never a fun thought, but planning for it can be one of the most important actions you can take to provide for his future. It is widely reported that approximately 500,000 animals are euthanized each year because their guardians predecease them or become otherwise incapacitated. Math sometimes makes my brain hurt, but that is well over a 1,000 animals per day, every day. With a little bit of planning, you can be certain your dog will not become part of this dreadful statistic.

In it’s most basic form, estate planning provides two main options to legally provide for the care of your dog – a will or a trust. Most people understand the concept of a will, where they provide for their animal and possibly leave some money to someone for care and then hope for the best.

There are some disadvantages to using a will, such as the gaps that remain uncovered. Wills do not take effect until they are probated, leaving a significant time between death and implementation. Another issue with a will is the problem that occurs if you become incapacitated. Your dog then falls into a void where you are still alive and yet unable to care for him. Whether you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated, your will cannot offer any legal assistance to protect your animals prior to your death.

10 Volume 2 • Issue 1 T The Triangle Dog

A second option in estate planning is what is commonly called a pet trust. A pet trust is a legal creation that provides for the care of your companion animal(s) in the event of your death or incapacitation. These trusts can take two distinct forms – an inter vivos trust, or trust which begins while you are alive, or a testamentary trust, which initiates upon your death through provisions in your will.

For purposes of this article, and since I have mentioned the specific problem of provisions that do not take effect until the probate of a will, we will discuss inter vivos pet trusts. As with wills, there are also some challenges with a trust. They often involve more expense and/or fees for administration.

When forming a pet trust, you will need to select at least one trustee and at least one caregiver. While one person can hold both roles, I recommend separate parties to provide a system of checks and balances. I also always recommend naming at least two alternates in the event one of your selections is unable or unwilling to perform their duties. The trustee will be responsible for managing the trust, making payments to the caregiver as well as making sure the caregiver is performing their duties. While there are corporations that will act as trustees for a fee, you may also be able to name someone you know to fill the role.

The supremely important role of caregiver is the person you name who will be entrusted

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