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Pet Planning: An Often Overlooked Aspect of Estate Planning

Whether we want to admit it or not, the United States is a country that dotes on its pets. More than 60% of U.S. homes have pets, and Americans spend tens of billions of dollars every year to take care of their dogs, cats, birds and other animals. However, as much as we might include our pets in every aspect of our lives, many of us don't take the time to think about what would happen if we could no longer take care of them.

The idea of estate planning to take care of your pets may strike some as silly or absurd, but for those whose pets have become part of the family, it is essential to ensure that the pet is taken care and does not end up neglected or in a shelter where it could be euthanized if not adopted quickly.

There are a few simple things you can do to make sure your pets are taken care of when you are gone, but the first thing to do is make sure you get something down on paper. Many of us talk to friends or family and ask them to take care of our pets, but without something on paper, you have no idea if such an agreement will be followed.

Many people will make provisions in a will for their pet. While this might work in some circumstances, remember that your will could be challenged, and it may take some time to go through the probate process. One of the available options is what is called a "pet protection agreement," which is generally accepted by courts and can be used to direct care for your pet.

Another option is a pet trust, which you can provide funds for the long-term care of your pet. One think to keep in mind is that you want to fund the trust realistically. It will need money to provide proper care for the pet, but if the trust fund is excessive, it might not withstand a court challenge. Finally, you may want to consider using some sort of limited power of attorney to allow a trusted person to access funds to take of your pet if you were to become incapacitated.

If you have questions about implementing these estate planning tools, you should seek the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Source: USA Today, Pet Talk: For pets' sake, include them in your estate planning, Sharon L. Peters 12/7/10

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