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Use New Jersey estate planning rules to create a trust for your pet

You may remember in 2007 when the "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley died and used her estate plan to leave her dog $12 million. The incident drew a great deal of media attention, in part because Helmsely cut some of her relatives out of the will in order to spoil her dog. The judge eventually reduced the amount to $2 million, and some of the remaining $10 million was awarded to her grandchildren.

Since then, the concept of estate planning for pets has taken off, and attorneys throughout New Jersey work with clients to create trusts for their pets. Similar to typical trusts, a pet trust gives pet owners the opportunity to detail how their pets should be cared for, who will be responsible for actually taking the pet and how the care will be paid for.

For people who think of their dogs as members of their family, a pet trust can help ensure there are finances set aside to take care of your pet. One attorney said that because you don't know when something could happen to you, it's important to be prepared.

When you are setting up the trust, one of the details you will need to consider is who will take care of your dog. Establishing a strong relationship with your veterinarian is one way to help ensure your pet receives the care you would give him. One vet said that she considers her clients to be like family. She encourages her clients to leave the animal to her, and she will find a good home for him or her.

As you are creating your pet trust, it is important to make sure the pet fund is quickly turned over to the designated caregiver. If the funds are not transferred quickly, you can run into problems regarding how much was actually left to the pet.

An experienced attorney can help you determine how much money you spend on your animal and how much you may want to leave in your trust.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Pet estate planning ensures lifetime care after owner's death," The Record, 12 July 2011

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