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Estate planning for pets

Estate planning is, no doubt, a family affair. And family, for many individuals, includes furry, four-legged friends and various other creatures.

Estate planning for pets can be an important thing for some individuals. Individuals have been known to leaves millions of dollars in trust for care of their pet after their death. Of course, millions of dollars for care of a pet seems a tad bit excessive, but many owners do wish to leave behind some money and instructions for the care of their animal friend, and to appoint a caregiver.

At least 45 states currently allow for pet trusts, which are agreements providing funds and specifying how to care for their pet and who is responsible for the pet. While such agreements are generally not terribly complicated, some attorneys specialize in pet trusts.

It isn't known just how many pet owners choose to provide for their animals after their death. But some estimate that around 2 percent of surrendered animals were abandoned after the death of the owner, which translates to roughly 150,000 cats and cats per year.

Who can an owner appoint to care for their pet after their death? Friends or relatives are very often selected as caregivers, or other trusted individuals. But various states have sanctuaries for pets who outlive their owners and some veterinary school offer lifetime care or home placement for pets.

While such options are not available or affordable for everybody, most people are able to afford a simple Sources said a legally binding pet protection agreement can be obtained online for as cheap as $39. The Humane Society provides free planning resources for individuals wishing to care for their pet after their passing.

Trust must be written so the pets and money can be quickly turned over to the specified caregiver or facility, since the need for that care is immediate after the owner dies. Owners sometimes choose to compensate their caregivers in order that the pet does not become a burden. But one of the issues that can come up in that situation is good, old fashioned greed. There have been some cases where the caregiver was allowed to use the owner's property until the pet's death, which motivated caregivers to resort to deception or extraordinary efforts to extend their use of the property.

Source: MSNBC, "Pet estate planning: Not just for Leona Helmsley anymore," Sue Manning, 22 June 2011.

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