Your pet is a member of the family, and from an estate planning perspective, there would be a built-in support system for the pet in place if someone was to pass away. For this reason coupled with the human versus dog and cat lifespans, most people never think about planning for pets.
This makes sense for younger adults, but there is another dimension that we come into contact with quite often as elder law attorneys.
When people start to reach an advanced age, they have been retired for years, so they do not have regular interactions with their work colleagues. If you are in this position and you lose your spouse as a senior, there is an enormous void that can never be fully filled.
Along the way, some friends and extended family members may pass away, and this can add to isolation. Clearly, loneliness is not uncommon among elders.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are very real medical problems connected to social isolation among the elderly. Researchers found that it increases the likelihood of premature death from all causes, and this is somewhat surprising.
Seniors that are experiencing social isolation have a 50 percent increased risk of dementia. Loneliness can cause anxiety and depression, and some folks become suicidal.
These are just some of the health risks, so this is a matter that should be taken very seriously.
We are not suggesting that a dog or a cat can make social contact with human beings unnecessary, but pet ownership can certainly help. In addition to the companionship from a loving best friend for life, there are other benefits.
You do not have as much time to feel down in the dumps when you have a dependent of sorts that is relying on you for everything. This sense of purpose can be rejuvenating, and a pet is invariably going to put a smile on your face several times a day.
Dogs love to go out for walks, and this can give you a reason to keep yourself as active as possible. Fresh air and sunlight are good for the mind, body, and soul, and you may make acquaintances with other pet owners and animal lovers.
Researchers have found that pet ownership can provide tangible health benefits for senior citizens that are experiencing social isolation, so it has appeal on multiple levels.
Naturally, if you are a senior citizen, you are going to be concerned about the possibility of predeceasing a pet that you bring into your home. This is a very real concern, and all responsible people would take pause.
However, there is a very effective solution that can be implemented. Pet trusts are legal in all 50 states at this point, so you can create trust for the benefit of your dog or cat as a resident of Tennessee.
You would fund the trust and name a trustee to act as the administrator after you pass away. This does not necessarily have to be the person that will care for the animal, and you can use a professional fiduciary like the trust department of a bank or a trust company if you choose to do so.
With regard to the funding, you do not have to be concerned about assets that remain in the trust after the death of the pet. When you are drawing up the trust declaration, you name a successor trustee that will inherit those assets when the time comes.
The trustee would have a fiduciary duty to follow your instructions to the letter with regard to the way that you want the pet to be cared for after your passing. As you can see, a pet trust can allow you to enjoy responsible pet ownership as a senior citizen.
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