Ultimate Pet Care: Create a Pet Trust

Last Updated Aug 19, 2010 10:42 AM EDT

If your dog doesn't have the bona fidos to rate as one of America's top financial planners the best way to make sure your pet is well-provided for in the event it survives you is to add a pet trust to your estate planning documents.

A 1990 law change (The Uniform Probate Code if you're keeping score) opened the door for the care of pets to be included in estate plans. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 44 states have adopted pet trust laws. The stragglers are Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Until pets were specifically called out in estate planning law it was tough to formally provide for a pet's care through a trust document because pets are deemed to be property, and you can't make property a beneficiary of a trust. You -- or make that your pet -- had to hope friends, family or your trustee was as crazy about your pet as you were.

Cue up the Leona Helmsley reference
Yes, the Queen of the Mean, who died in 2007 took pet estate planning to the extreme, stipulating that $12 million of her gazillion dollar estate be left for the care of her beloved Maltese dog, Trouble. (A judge later reduced that sum to a miserly $2 million.)

More recently we now have the case of Conchita the Chihuahua. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, deceased heiress Gail Posner left a $3 million pet trust for Conchita and two other pooches, as well as the ultimate dog run: Posner's Miami spread valued at more than $8 million. Her son --as in real flesh and blood --was left $1 million. Yes, lawyers are on the case. (I realize two data points does not make for a full-blown trend, but what's with the small dog largesse? I am curious if cats have ever been the beneficiary of such insanity. Comments are open below.)

Sane Pet Planning Helmsley and Posner are obviously outlier cases of pet estate planning gone awry, but adding your pet into your plan is indeed a smart move. It's not just about who you want to take care of your critters, but as evidenced by the estimated $47.7 billion in annual pet spending, pets have become a big line item in family budgets. Designating that some of your estate be earmarked to defray the costs for your pet's care is the best way to ensure that your pet's caretaker can afford to continue the level of care (and yes, probably a wee bit of indulgence) your pet has grown accustomed to.

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