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A Pet Trust Ensures Your Pet’s Care When You Can’t

Driving from Charlottesville, VA to Nashville, TN, we stopped in Knoxville where I met Esther Roberts, J.D. Esther is a concert pianist, a horse trainer, and an attorney who specializes in Pet Trusts. We met at her farm just outside of Knoxville, where she and her husband house 12 cats, four horses and four dogs.

Talk about a mix of smells! I had never been around so many strong smells in one place and smelling 12 cats made me very nervous…..but I managed to do the interview (I am a true professional)!

mustang
Esther Roberts, J.D., helps her clients establish Pet Trusts. She is pictured here with one of her horses, Kaliwohi, a BLM Mustang who is five years old.

What is a Pet Trust?

A Pet Trust ensures your pet is taken care of in the manner you’d like should you no longer be able to care for your pet (due to death, illness, etc.). The basics in a Pet Trust include such things as: designating primary and secondary caregivers; providing funds to pay for food, veterinary care, grooming, exercise, etc., and designating a trustee to make sure the caregivers are providing excellent care. Some Trusts include specific directives such as a specific brand/type of food; how often and in what manner the pet is to be groomed; circumstances where euthanasia may be an appropriate course of treatment (e.g., colic in an aged horse); how the animal is to be exercised (e.g., “Fifi is to be walked at least four times each day,” “Jett is to be retired to pasture and never ridden again by anyone,” etc.).

When and why did you decide to offer Pet Trusts? 

Pet Trusts is a new initiative in my practice that launched about ten weeks ago. I have worked on pet trusts in the past, but wanted to wait to launch a full-blown expansion of services until I felt competent in this area of the law.

I decided to expand my area of practice beyond intellectual property and estate planning into Pet Trusts because there are so many animals – of all species – that end up at shelters, auctions, or other untoward places as a result of something happening to their owner.

Dog in shelter
Having a Pet Trust will help ensure your pet doesn’t end up in a shelter after you’re no longer able to care for him. Photo by Allen Park.

The most loving thing an owner can do for their pet is to invest the time and effort into planning ahead for their animal’s lifelong welfare, should the owner become incapacitated or pass on. This is a good idea for cats and dogs, who live, on average, 15 years or so. Planning ahead for your animal’s well-being becomes critical when you consider horses live, on average, 30 years, and many birds and reptiles live 60-100 years.

Who should set up a Pet Trust?

Anyone who has an animal they care about should at least consider setting up a pet trust. Here are a few examples as to why:

A young equestrian lost her life as a result of a bad fall, yet she adored her five-year-old horse. The horse probably has another 25 years of life ahead. What happens to the horse? Is it sold at auction, where it runs the risk of ending up at the slaughterhouse? A dear friend is willing to take the horse and give it a great home, but they need help with the costs of care. A pet trust would assure the caregiver has adequate resources to provide for the horse for the remainder of its lifespan.

A couple in their forties decide to get a young tortoise as a pet. The lifespan of the tortoise is sixty years, thus it is anticipated their pet will outlive them. Who will take the tortoise at the appropriate time? How will the caregiver provide for the tortoise? Who will oversee the caregiver’s care to make certain it is adequate.

A young soldier gets a puppy and then gets deployed overseas. Who will take care of the dog while he is deployed? Who would take care of the dog if he is unable to do so upon his return?

An octogenarian widower decides to get a kitten to keep him company. A year later, he needs to go to assisted living and the facility will not allow his cat to join him. What can he do to assure his beloved companion has a great new home and excellent care?

old man with cats
Pet Trusts are a good idea for anyone who wants to ensure their pets are taken care of after they are unable to care for them. Photo by Neil H.

These are just a few examples of situations where a Pet Trust can provide the legal vehicle for appropriate care of one’s animals.

While we all hope to live a very long time, “tomorrow is not promised” so it is wise for every animal owner to consider the long-term care of their pets.

We are South Dakota residents. Can we go to you for a Pet Trust?

For estate planning and pet trusts, my practice is restricted to Tennessee and Oklahoma, because I hold state licenses in both states. For other states, I recommend folks seek out attorneys who are involved in estate planning AND animal law, as these attorneys will be the best practitioners for pet trust work.

orange tabby
Gideon, 5, loves life on Esther’s horse farm in Knoxville, TN.

What’s your favorite lawyer joke?

Two lawyers entered the diner and ordered a couple of drinks. They then took sandwiches from their briefcases and began to eat. Seeing this, the angry owner went over to them and said, “Excuse me, but you cannot eat your own sandwiches in here!”
Shrugging their shoulders the lawyers exchanged sandwiches.

Thank you for this interview! If people want to contact you about a Pet Trust (or Intellectual Property), what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Just send me an email: esther@globalipam.com.

If you could have lunch with any NFL Head Coach, who would it be and what would you both eat?

Marv Levy. Mr. Levy is a WWII Veteran and he holds a Master of English Literature from Harvard. Lunch with him would provide much interesting conversation, to be sure! And he lost four consecutive Super Bowls while coaching at Buffalo, so he would be very wise when discussing tenacity and life in general. (He is 92.) I think I would like and respect him very much.

I would have a mixed green salad, cheese ravioli, and some fabulous, simple, after-dinner cookies that are so delicious! Coach Levy would enjoy minestrone soup, sea bass with rice pilaf, and crepes for dessert.

i don’t know…. I think a juicy steak or greasy hamburger with some Cold Stone Ice Cream sounds better!

What do you think about Pet Trusts? Leave a comment and let me know!

Woof Out!

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Can’t wait to see what you say! Woof!