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The Legal Beagle
Heirs to the Bone - Estate Planning for Pets
(Our regular legal columnist, Karen Copeland, had her esteemed colleague Frances Carlisle fill in for her on the important subject of estate planning for pets.)
As a trusts and estates attorney, I hear many sad stories about beloved companion animals ending up at shelters after their owners die. The beginning of the new year is a good time to make a resolution to plan for the care of your pets.
Make a Bequest of Your Animals To a Caretaker
If you have no one who is able and willing to take the animals, your executor can be given the authority to find suitable adoptive homes for the animals. If you do this, it is wise to select an executor who has some knowledge of and concern for your animals.
Another alternative is to search for a good local animal rescue and placement charity and make arrangements in advance with the charity to take the animals after your death and find homes for them. The charity should be named in your Will to take the animals and to receive a cash legacy. Obtain detailed information about the charity's adoption procedures and be comfortable with such procedures before you make such arrangements.
Anytime animals are bequeathed to a person or charity, the Will should include a statement that you are bequeathing all the animals owned by you at the time of your death. If you name specific animals in your Will, it will not cover animals adopted later.
Create a Trust for Your Animals
There are two methods of creating a pet trust. First, a trust under the Will, called a testamentary trust, can be created. Or, an inter vivos trust, which is created during the life of the pet owner, can be created. The inter vivos trust has the advantage of being immediately available for the care of an animal if the pet owner, for example, has to go into a nursing home or becomes incapacitated.
A pet trust can be funded with a specific amount of cash or with assets other than cash. I have clients who are rich with animal companions but who have very little money. Some have taken out life insurance policies and made the pet trust the beneficiary of the policy to assure the good care of their pets.
Birds, Reptiles, Horses -- Pets with Long Life Spans
An alternative to the trust for animals would be to find a sanctuary and leave the animals (and funds for the animals' care) outright to the sanctuary on condition that they keep and care for the animals for life. No trust would be created--the animals would go directly to the sanctuary as an outright bequest.
Frances Carlisle is a long-time member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York's Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals, and has just been appointed as the chair of the newly formed Animal Trust Subcommittee, which is part of the American Bar Association's Animal Law Committee. She has written articles and is a frequent lecturer on the topic of estate planning and has appeared on various television shows to discuss the importance of estate planning to provide for the continuing care of companion animals. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have a legal question for Ms. Copeland? Email it to email@example.com. She may answer it in a future issue of New York Tails!
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