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Aunt Betty’s Pet Trust

My Aunt Betty’s closest companions have always been her cats. Ever since I was a boy, my family never traveled to the Midwest to visit just Betty. It was always Betty and Roscoe or Betty and Fluffy. She’s always loved those feline friends and, as age crept up on her, she started to speculate what would become of them upon her eventual demise.

Apparently Betty thought this was a concern of mine as well because over the weekend I received a telephone call to say all was taken care of – a Pet Trust has just been signed.

Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, was one of the first to set up such a trust when she left $100,000 to Rodeo, her Shar-Pei. Others followed, but courts often frowned on their validity because the trust was not based on a human life.

This changed in 1993 when a number of states starting adopting model legislation drafted by the Uniform Probate Code, which allowed trusts to continue for a pet’s lifetime. Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin all allow some form of pet trust.

You can have the trust take effect whenever you’re unable to care for your pets, usually upon death or disability. Like other trusts, you fund the instrument with enough assets to take care of your pets for their expected lifetime. As a general rule, the amount should not be “excessive.” A trustee is appointed to oversee and distribute the assets. A caregiver is also appointed to physically take possession and care for your pets.

If you don’t know a trustee or caregiver, check with the local humane society or other animal organization in your area. Many of these organizations have programs set up to assist in this matter.

Pet Trusts do not come without some concerns.

It is important to understand that while trusts can be set up for pets, leaving property to an animal via a will is still not recognized.

If a pet is very young, you might also run across the “rule against perpetuities,” which forbids a trust going on forever. This shouldn’t be a problem with a 13 year old dog, but what if you die with a 3 year old tortoise? Recently, a tortoise died in India that was estimated to be 255 years old. Adwaitya (the tortoise’s name) could have wracked legal havoc with a trust.

Aunt Betty is lucky enough to live in a state that allows trusts but, even if she didn’t, some alternative plans are possible. Leaving her pet (and money to take care of it) to an individual willing to love Fluffy is one of them.

As with any kind of estate planning, a competent attorney should be used who has some experience in this area.

If it’s important to you that Fido continues on the gravy train even after you’ve ridden your last train, then a Pet Trust is something to look into.

Now if I could only learn to meow and lick myself clean, maybe Betty would set up a trust for me.

Source by Glenn Dahlke

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