Estate Planning for Your Pets
Estate Planning For...Your Pets?
Billionaire Leona Helmsley made headlines a few years ago when she left million in her will to take care of her Maltese, Trouble. Sure, that sounds a little crazy, but some sort of advance planning for a pet's future and fortune isn't uncommon or necessarily nuts, says Rachel Hirschfeld, an attorney specializing in animal law.
Legally, pets are considered property by courts, and securing their care can be complicated. So, unless you plan, your pet could end up in a shelter.
Avoiding that is usually as simple as picking a pet guardian. Ask a friend or family member who's great with your furry pal if, in the unlikely event that your pet outlives you, he or she would be willing to take it in. It's also a good idea to get the agreement in writing—though any document's legal standing can be contested, your pet's case is stronger if there's proof that a pet trust was made for its care. (Hirschfeld created a Pet Protection Agreement pet trust that allows you to name a guardian and leave money for care. It can be completed at legalzoom.com for and is legal in all states. A lawyer's fees for similar services can cost 0+.) A pet dossier, containing vet records, food preferences, and favorite toys, will go the extra mile to help a guardian maintain your pet's routine (and reduce your pet's anxiety) if you're not around.
For a sick or older pet, the following may be worth considering:
Set aside money.
A will is not legally binding for pet care, which is fine if you trust your guardian. But if you're leaving a lot of money, as in the case of a pet with an illness that requires many health-care costs, set up a pet trust, says attorney Peggy Hoyt, the author ofAll My Children Wear Fur Coats: How to Leave a Legacy for Your Pet.
MORE:6 Ways To Help Your Pudgy Pet Lose Weight
Make the trust freestanding.
This helps avoid probate and ensures immediate care, keeping your pet out of legal limbo. Work with a lawyer experienced in pet trusts, advises Hoyt. Charges to draft a trust can start at ,500, but if it's part of a client's overall estate planning, fees often drop to under 0.
MORE: 4 Worries About Adopting A Shelter Pet—Completely Busted
Select a sanctuary.
When a guardian isn't available, an animal sanctuary can step in to provide a caring home for an up-front or deferred fee, which is paid at the time of your death by a bequest in your will or trust. Scope out a few sanctuaries in your area to find one you have confidence in for your pet.
By the way, little Trouble lived out her days in Florida with, among other things, a security team and ,000 worth of annual grooming.
Video: Planning for the Pooch - Estate Planning for Your Pet
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