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Attorney Randy Ratliff

Estate Planning for Pet Owners

Nashville Attorney Helping Aging Tennessee Residents Protect Their Pets

Many of us think of our beloved pets as members of the family. Sadly, we usually outlive our pets, since the life expectancy of a dog is 10 to 13 years, and an inside cat typically lives between 12 and 18 years. Because of this “natural order of things,” we may neglect to plan for the possibility that our pets may outlive us. Even for people who are currently healthy and middle-aged, there is no way to know what the future holds. Illnesses and accidents can happen unexpectedly, leaving pets with no caregiver. Nashville estate planning lawyer Randy Ratliff helps pet owners throughout Tennessee prepare for a variety of estate planning contingencies, including helping pet owners who want to make sure that not only their assets but also their animals are protected in the event of their death.

An experienced estate planning attorney will ask a client many questions in order to ascertain not only his or her assets and liabilities but also any special circumstances that need to be addressed. Pet ownership is such an area. Under Tennessee law, of course, a pet is not a “person” and cannot inherit property. Instead, an animal is considered property. Just like one’s bank account, car, and house, a pet passes to heirs upon the owner’s death. If the deceased person left a will, the ownership of his or her pets is determined by the language of the will. If no specific provision is made for pets, the testator’s animals pass according to the residuary clause of the will. This clause is the part of the will directing how any property that is left over after any specific requests are satisfied will pass.

Understanding How Tennessee Law Affects the Future of Pets After a Pet Owner Passes

In the event that the pet owner did not leave a will or other estate planning documents, such as a trust, his or her property passes according to the law of intestate succession. This is the de facto estate plan established by the legislature for people who die without a valid will in place. Typically, property passes to one’s spouse and children. The proportions in which they inherit may vary according to the length of the marriage, the number of children, and other factors. If the deceased left behind no spouse or child, the law of intestacy identifies other relatives who will then inherit the property, including pets. In other words, if a person passes away and leaves no will and no immediate family, a distant relative may inherit any animals left behind.

A person who inherits a pet in a will or through intestate succession legally owns the animal and can treat it as he or she pleases. This includes surrendering the pet to a humane society or even having it put to sleep. Even if the heir is willing to care for the animal, he or she may have very different standards when it comes to issues like whether an animal is kept indoors or outdoors, what it eats, how often it receives veterinary care, and more. While there is never a guarantee as to what will happen after one passes away, talking to an attorney about establishing an estate plan that includes the care of one’s pets and naming a particular relative or friend to be the animal’s caregiver in the future can go a long way toward having the peace of mind that one’s affairs are in order.

Contact a Nashville Attorney to Discuss Estate Planning as a Pet Owner

If you own a pet and want to speak to an experienced Nashville attorney about a will, trust, or other tool designed to protect your pet in the future, the Randy Ratliff Law Offices, PLLC, can help. Call us at 615-656-8282 or contact us online, and we will be happy to set up an appointment for you. We serve clients in Nashville, Cool Springs, Brentwood, Franklin, and other communities in Davidson and Williamson Counties. We also handle living wills, Medicaid planning, and other estate planning issues.