When putting one’s affairs in order, be it thinking about the need for a power of attorney, health care proxy or last will and testament, often people will know who they want to inherit their property and who shall serve as guardian for their children but rarely does someone come to my office with a plan for their beloved animals.
Our pets are very important to us and they depend upon us for survival so we need to be concerned about what would happen to them if something happened to us. When I suggest that they think about this, people often bring up Leona Helmsly and how crazy it was that she left all her money to her beloved little dog. Not exactly. What Leona did was leave her money in a pet trust. Of course no animal needs that much money.
What really happened was that the amount left in trust to care for her dog was reduced by the court and the excess went to animal related charities. If your animals are important to you and you want to provide for them, you too can set up pet trust. You can do this via an inter vivos trust, one that you set up during your lifetime, or by a testamentary trust set up in your will. Under New York State law a pet trust can last no longer than 21 years. That works great for anyone with cats, dogs and ferrets but if you have a horse, parrot or tortoise, you may need to be a little more creative. One idea is to leave the money to a charity with the stipulation that your animal be cared for. Or you can leave the money directly to a trusted individual for the purpose of caring for your pet. If you do decide to use a trust be sure to state that your trust is to provide for all animals you own, not just for Fluffy because Fluffy may not be alive when the trust is implemented but Sweetie may be. As with any trust, who you choose as trustee is vital since this is the person who is going carry out your wishes. Choose wisely.
As part of one’s overall plan perhaps the most important document needed is a well-drafted comprehensive durable power of attorney. If you have pets and you become incapacitated, it’s important to grant your agent such powers as to enter your home to care for your animals or use your money to care for your pets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Attorney Joan S. Arbiter
In all my areas of practice, I strive to be a 'true professional' and to use the knowledge I have gained through experience in the most responsible way possible—respecting my clients' wishes and providing them with the best information I can so that they can make the right legal decisions for themselves and their families.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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