PEACE OF MIND
Pet trust provides for your companion when you can't
By Chandra Orr
Copley News Service
What happens when your pet outlives you?
In the event that you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly, a pet trust covers all the legal bases.
It's a simple document that every pet owner should have to ensure that their favorite feline or pampered pooch gets the care they need.
"We don't really think of us dying first because our pets are relatively short lived - cats live about 20 years, dogs about 15 - but from the moment you adopt a pet, you need to address the cycle of life and give this some thought," said Diane Pomerance, author of "Pet Parenthood: Adopting the Right Animal Companion For You," (Polaire Publications, $10).
"Pet parenthood is a lifetime commitment, and you need to provide for your pets legally in the event that they survive you," she said.
Setting up a pet trust is similar to establishing a trust for a child. Pet owners name a trustee and a caregiver, make financial provisions for the animal and stipulate the level of care that their pet is to receive.
"A trust is designed to take care of your pet in the manner in which you do," said attorney Peter Canalia, founder of Peace of Mind Pet Trusts (POMPT). The Illinois-based business is one of many that have emerged in recent years in response to this growing trend.
"I kept receiving requests to set up pet trusts for animals ranging from champion race horses to dogs," Canalia said. "Despite all the legal smoke and mirrors most lawyers will throw up around trusts, the form is easy to complete and binding in 38 states where pet trusts have been recognized."
An estate or family attorney can also add provisions for your pet to your living will.
The key is to set aside adequate funds to care for your pet, select an appropriate caregiver and establish a legally binding document documenting your wishes.
"Most people will leave $8,000 to $15,000, which should carry a pet through its natural life in the style to which it has become accustomed," Canalia said.
When choosing a caregiver, a close friend or family member is the natural choice, but situations change. Your bachelor brother may be up for the challenge now, but by the time he's called into service, he could have his hands full with a family or pets of his own.
Consider one of the many rescue groups devoted to overseeing pets that outlive their people. For help with locating a pet sanctuary, consult with your veterinarian or your local animal welfare organization - or check with 2nd Chance 4 Pets (www.2ndchance4pets.org), a nonprofit dedicated to providing information on lifetime care options for pets. Their Web site features a comprehensive list of sanctuaries and care facilities categorized by region.
Unless you stipulate otherwise, sanctuaries and rescue groups will most likely care for your pet on-site at the organization's facility. In some cases, they may find a loving foster home for your pet, to be overseen by the trustee of your choice.
In Pomerance's case, she and her husband have bequeathed their entire estate to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Texas, with the provision that their 18 rescue dogs live out the remainder of their days in their own home with a live-in caregiver.
"I wanted to preserve their familiar surroundings and have them provided for in the manner to which they are accustomed," she explained. "When the last of our original animals has died, then the SPCA can do with the estate what they wish."
Pet trusts range from the straightforward - simply naming a caregiver and designating funds - to the elaborate, with detailed instructions on the specific brand of food you want your pet to have, how many treats they receive each day and even the types of toys they prefer.
Before signing the papers, be sure you've considered all aspects of your pet's lifestyle, from meals and medical treatments to their recreational needs and preferred home environment. No request is too frivolous.
"You can really get as detailed as you want. You make the provisions. You determine the level of care that this animal will receive," Pomerance said. "You want to protect this animal and make sure they have the proper quality of life.
"Life is unpredictable. You need to have a sense of peace and well-being and know in your heart that your animals will be well taken care of."
Costs for drafting a pet trust vary. An estate attorney may charge $1,000 or more to draft a complete living will, including provisions for your pet, while stand-alone pet trusts start at about $90.
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