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Pet Trusts

David Semmelman - Thursday, August 14, 2014

Estate Planning - Pet Trusts photo

Leona Helmsley died in 2007. She left $12 million in a trust for her dog, Trouble. Unfortunately, Mrs. Helmsley's loving gesture towards Trouble may, arguably, have been somewhat excessive. A court reduced Trouble's trust to $2 million, gave $3 million each to two grandsons (whom Mrs. Helmsley had disinherited) and $4 million to a charitable trust. Trouble lived off of his $2 million dollar trust fund until 2011.

Americans spent more than $61 Billion on the pets in 2011 according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We spend that kind of money on our pets because they are part of the family. Whether we are at our best or our worst, the devotion shown by a pet is pure - it's unconditional.

Anyone who has a will and/or trust in place to provide for human loved ones and to protect his or her legacy, is to be commended. It is amazing how many people fail to put a plan in place. But, what will happen to Rover or Fluffy? 

Not everyone will want to leave $12 million or even $2 million in trust to care for their pet, but there are alternatives to leaving the fate of a beloved pet to chance. We can make sure that a furry, feathered, scaly friend will be well provided for even after its human is no longer around. A pet trust is the most comprehensive way of providing for a companion animal. Illinois is one of 47 states that recognizes pet trusts.

A pet trust is typically funded by a bequest of a certain sum of money in the will or trust of a deceased owner to be used for the care and maintenance of a pet. The trust will name a trustee to manage the trust and a caregiver for the pet. The trust may also name someone to oversee the caregiver and to report to the trustee to make sure that the pet is receiving appropriate care. When the pet passes away, the trust will specify how any remaining funds will be distributed. It is not unusual for the remaining funds to be distributed to a charity or charities that promote animal welfare.

A less formal way of providing for a pet is to give him or her to a trustworthy friend or family member in a will or trust. A gift of money is often included with the gift of a pet to make sure that caring for Rover or Fluffy will not be a financial burden on his or her new human companion.

If there is no individual to name to take care of a pet an owner can give him or her to a pet guardian program. Many humane societies and university veterinary schools operate pet guardian programs. There may be an upfront fee involved to make sure the program will accept a pet when the time comes. It is important to investigate the program before naming it to make sure that the program's mission is consistent with the care the current owner wants his or her pet to receive.

There is nothing like the devotion shared by a pet and its owner. Let's make sure that Rover and Fluffy will continue to be loved and nurtured in the days to come. Watch Video on our YouTube Channel!

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