Pet Trusts: Ensuring Your Pet is in Good Hands

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 22% of the nation’s dogs and 25% of the cats live in a single-person household. If these people have no spouse or children, what will happen to their pets when they become incapacitated or pass away?

Until around 10 years ago, pet owners had no formal legal way to leave behind money to care for their animals. According to Kara Holmquist of the SPCA, “too many animals are landing in shelters after the owners have died”. “On any given day,” she said, “there are animals in shelters whose owners have passed away or become incapacitated. That’s unnecessary, especially if the owner had the means to provide for the pet’s care because it means the shelter space is not available for another homeless animal.”

Unlike a Will, which has to wind through the nightmare of probate, a Pet Trust should be created along with your living trust and should be designed to take effect immediately upon your death so that your beloved companion does not have to linger in a shelter while the courts cut through paperwork. Most pet owners opt to leave pets to family or a close friend. The main value of the pet trust is the fact it’s legally enforceable. If your designated caretaker does not live up to obligations, the courts can step in.

The most famous Pet Trust may belong to Trouble Helmsley, the late Leona Helmsley’s Maltese and the dog that grabbed headlines when a judge slashed her trust fund from $12 million to $2 million. Recent laws won’t prevent the judge from curbing the pet trusts’ dollar amounts if the amount seems “excessive.”

To get started, you should meet with a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as Evan H. Farr, CELA. After finding out more information, you can decide if the trust makes financial sense for you and your family. Then, you can work with The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firms of Evan H. Farr, P.C. to include all of your pet’s needs and your wishes for your pet, and name a caretaker and a trust administrator for when the inevitable happens.

Please call 703-691-1888 to make an appointment for a consultation. While you are in the office, be sure to visit with all of the animals who live here, including Saki and Alley (our Siamese cats), Big Red (our betta fish), and Commander Bun Bun (our lop-eared love bunny) and be sure to read our “Critter Corner” column in our Friday “Ask the Expert” newsletter each week.

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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