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Treating your pet like family to the very end

If you have a Fido or Fluffy who has been a member of your family ever since you can remember, you are certainly not alone. You are among the fortunate many for whom a loving and loyal companion has graced your life. You may return that love and loyalty in many ways, least of which may be the amount of money you spend on food, vet bills, necessities and treats. In fact, studies show that the average New Jersey household spends about $787 a year on pets.

Despite the amount of time and money you may spend on your pet, you may also be among the many who have made no provisions for your furry friend when your life is over. For this reason, shelters across the country are full of once-loved animals who no longer have a home.

Pet trusts

There are numerous options available to people who want to make provisions for their beloved pets. In some cases, this may take some serious long-term planning, especially if you have a pet with a long life expectancy, such as some tropical birds. One estate planning tool that is gaining popularity among pet owners is the pet trust.

Some important points about a pet trust include the following:

  • Choosing a trusted person to take care of your pet after you have died or become unable to provide such care
  • Funding the trust with enough money to cover expenses for the duration of your pet's life (Some experts suggest at least $10,000, depending on the type, age and health of your animal.)
  • Including instructions about the animal's care with as much specificity as you desire
  • Providing instructions for your last wishes for your pet, including how much medical intervention the pet's caregiver should provide, when to euthanize and how to manage your pet's remains
  • Distributing any leftover funds, for example to the pet's caregiver or to a charity

Similar to a trust you might create for a child with special needs or a beneficiary who is unable to handle a large inheritance, a pet trust is a kind of revocable trust, meaning that you can change its terms in your lifetime as long as you are competent to do so.

While such planning for a pet may seem excessive, you may want to remember that, as much as you love your pet, animals are considered property in the eyes of the law. This means that if you die without providing a well-funded plan, there is no way of knowing what may happen to your beloved companion.

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