How To Protect Your Precious Pets With A Trust
Recently, I’ve had several of our clients ask me about the welfare of their pets if they (the owner) were to die. When many of us reach a “certain age” our minds start to ponder that “what if” scenario and most of the folks who have discussed this with me don’t want to completely burden their families with the financial care of their pets. And they definitely don’t want them to end up in an animal shelter or worse.
Wills and estate plans for themselves are hard enough for most people to fathom. Legal planning for pets is rare, and previously was only thought of as a luxury for the ultra-rich. Much of this negative association is due to the 2007 lawsuit over real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley’s attempt to leave $12 million to her dog and the ensuing public legal dust up with her human heirs.
Since then there has been an evolution of pet law and there are easily accessible ways for average pet owners to prepare simple and inexpensive documents that can ensure their beloved companions do not end up abandoned.
The attorney who developed LegalZoom’s agreement answered frequently asked questions in an article I read.
Q: What happens to a pet when the owner is incapacitated or dies when there is no plan for them?
A: If animals have been abandoned, by law, they are required to go to a city shelter. They are property.
Q: How many people in your experience make a provision for their pets in their wills?
A: It’s about 25%. Putting a sentence in your will is the cheapest. There’s not really any added cost to what you are doing. You just say, “I leave my dog to…” You might want to add a sentence describing the food you feed, any long term medications, and the name of your veterinarian.
Q: What if you want to leave funds for the care of the pet and more detailed instructions in a formal document?
A: You go to an attorney and pay the price. Some attorneys charge $500 and some up to $2500. Choose wisely, remember it’s not the cost that makes a good valid agreement, but the talent. Find an attorney that practices pet law. There are now pet law courses in law schools and continuing education programs available to attorneys. If done incorrectly you, or your estate, can be sued by your disgruntled heirs.
Q: Do you have to provide funds to care for your pets when you die?
A: You don’t have to leave a dime or leave as much as you want. Everyone’s situation is different. Willing your pet to a friend or relative will potentially entail significant ongoing care expenses, so think this through carefully.
I hope this helps to start the discussion about the best, compassionate future care of your pets.
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