Family pets often hold a prominent place in the hearts of their owners. For some, providing for a beloved animal is an issue at the forefront of their minds when creating an estate plan. While not as direct as drafting provisions for human beneficiaries, certain measures can be taken to ensure your pet will taken care of in accordance with your wishes.

While it is not advisable to attempt to designate a pet as a direct beneficiary in a will, as Tennessee law does not permit a pet to receive assets, Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-15-408 does allow the establishment of a “pet trust” to provide for the care of an animal during and after the owner’s lifetime.

Pet trusts are often subject to challenge by family members eager to see certain assets allocated elsewhere. To withstand a challenge, it is imperative that a pet trust strictly comply with the legal requirements set forth by the statute.

Furthermore, to ensure a pet trust is properly administered and its value does not exceed a reasonable threshold necessary for its “intended use,” courts can closely scrutinize the terms of a pet trust and the actions of its trustee. While the ultimate termination of a pet trust is a natural progression for the trust funds to revert to close family members or other intended beneficiaries, a premature distribution of trust funds due to the mishandling or mismanagement of a pet trust could thwart the desires of a pet owner.

The welfare of a beloved pet should not be left to chance. Having a solid plan in place will ensure your pet is taken care of if you become unable to care for them yourself.