As estate planning attorneys, we focus on challenges that people face when they own animals they consider to be part of their family and also seniors when they start to reach advanced ages. Who will care for their animals is a major one and also loneliness is definitely one of them – social isolation is a very serious problem among seniors. In this post we primarily address challenges for seniors, but the same principals of a Pet Trust apply to any animal owner, regardless of age or type of animal. Many of our clients have horses or birds they consider as important parts of their family.
Health Risks of Loneliness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are very real health risks associated with social isolation among elders, and their findings are surprising. Social isolation increases the likelihood of premature death, and it increases dementia risk by 50 percent.
Substandard social relationships increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and many lonely seniors experience depression and loneliness. This leads to suicide in some extreme cases, so this is a very serious issue.
There is no way to adequately replace a deceased spouse or close friend, but pet ownership can make a very big difference. If you own a dog, you have a loyal companion, and your dog will definitely put a smile on your face each and every day.
When you are retired and your children are grown, you can lack a sense of purpose, and this can be depressing. Everything changes when you have a four-legged companion that is relying on you for everything, and this can have meaningful mental health benefits.
Most dogs enjoy going out for walks, so you have a reason to get outside and get some exercise in your own right. While you are out and about, you will invariably run into other pet owners and dog lovers that strike up conversations, and this can lead to friendships.
Clearly, a pet can make a major difference in the life of a lonely senior citizen. However, if you bring a pet into your home late in your life, you will naturally have longevity concerns.
Fortunately, there is an ideal solution in the form of a pet trust. At one time, they were not legal in many states, but every state in the union is now recognizing trusts that are established for the benefit of animals.
You have to get someone to agree to act as the caretaker if you predecease your pet. Once this has been accomplished, you name a trustee to manage the assets in the trust. It can be someone that you know personally, but there is another option.
Trust companies and the trust departments of banks provide trustee services. When you have a professional trustee in place, you can be sure that everything will be done properly. The trustee will have a fiduciary duty to follow the instructions that you record in the trust declaration.
You can be specific with regard to the way that you want the pet to be treated after you are gone if you do in fact die first. After the passing of the pet, a successor beneficiary that you designate will assume ownership of assets that remain in the trust.
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