‘You need to be sure that your pet is taken care’: Setting up a pet trust

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. – Brenda Overman remembers her brother Bill’s final days.

“He went into hospice the 31st of July and he passed August 17,” she said.

But before he passed, he had one more chance to hold his beloved dog Sam.

“Sam jumped in the bed with Bill, and it was all Bill could do to put his arms around Sam and tears just rolling down his face he says, ‘I love you and I know I made the right decision,’” Overman said.

Her brother made the decision to have Overman care for Sam once he passed away and had even purchased an insurance policy.

“It would cover medical bills in a separate account and that was his wish in his will,” she said.

Overman is President and Founder of the SPCA of the Triad.

As a sister and animal lover, it’s not a surprise that she would step-up to help, but some pet owners can’t count on family.

“Taking on that responsibility and that cost for five or six years or maybe ten years is a lot for them to do and most people are not going to do that,” she said.

A special statute in North Carolina allows trusts for pets.

Dennis Toman, a certified elder law attorney with The Elderlaw Firm, says a pet trust may be a good option for people who don’t have a loved one to care for their pets when they pass.

“A pet trust is a way for someone to make specific provisions for their pets if they are not around,” Toman said.

Not only would a trust outline the person or organization that is to care for the pet, but it also allows the owner to set aside funding so that pet care is not a financial burden to the caregiver.

A pet trust can be set up by working with a lawyer who does estate planning.

"The trust could be set up either under a will or it could be a standalone trust, or it could be part of an existing revocable trust,” Toman said.

While the issue seems more of a concern among seniors, Overman explains that people of all ages should begin establishing long-term plans for their pet.

“You never know because we're not promised tomorrow. You need to be sure that your pet is taken care of,” she said.

A pet trust is part of the overall estate planning process. However, Toman says there is usually a fairly modest additional cost to cover a pet trust.