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Estate planning for pet protection

Pets are a beloved member of 68 percent of American households and rising because many couples without children have pets and the use of comfort and emotional support animals is growing. Leaving pets out of estate planning, however, could lead to the unintended euthanizing of the pet or its placement into a shelter. Pet trusts are an effective measure to help assure the pet's future well-being.

In a pet trust, the owner appoints a trustee to care for the animal and sets aside a specific amount of money for that care. Trusts also allow for the creation of a sub-trust that provides directions for the pet's care.

Pet owners do not have to be affluent to create these trusts. Wills may also be utilized to assure the pet's care, but the money must be left to a trustee specifically for the care of the pet.

The pet owner must assure that arrangements are in place and create the trust before they die. Selecting a trusted, capable and willing person to care for the pet is essential.

The trust takes effect after death. Typically, money goes into the trust after the owner's death for the pet's benefit.

Therefore, it is important to place aside enough funds dedicated to caring for the pet's health and other needs and to assure that caretaker is not financially burdened. Any money left over after the pet dies goes to the caretaker or designated family members.

Trusts can be funded when the pet owner is alive. However, they lose access to these funds.

Pet trusts have not been restricted to dogs and cats. These have been established for horses, ponies, snakes and tortoises. Snakes and tortoises, in fact, can live very long lives.

An attorney can provide advice and create valid legal documents to cover pet care and take other measures to protect estate. They can also help assure that a person's intentions are carried out after they die.

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