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Hurricane Sandy, Pets, & Planning

November 19, 2012,

Many lessons can be taken from the beating that our state took in recent weeks as a result of Hurricane Sandy, not least of which is the resiliency of New Yorkers. However, as we piece things back together, some advocates are reminding community members of one overlooked victim of lack of preparation: pets. A story from Today discussed how many families were forced to make tough choices about their pet, partiularly when they had to evacuate or seek other shelter that did not allow animals.

Of course, there were no easy answers, but in all cases it was a reminder of the need to have some preparations in place ahead of time so that beloved animals are taken care of no matter what the circumstances. While few expect severe weather patterns to disrupt the care of an animal, there are some events which we all must plan for: death and disability.

The article points to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) that nearly 100,000 pets are forced into shelters each and every year as a result of guardians who pass away or become disabled without planning for their care. The future for those animals is unclear. Resources are incredibly tight, and so, depending on where the animal is taken, their long-term prospects are varied. It is truly a tragic sitaution that affects far too many pets that were devoted companions to their owners throughout their lives.

Fortunately, there are steps that all pet owners can take to eliminate the uncertainty. Basic estate planning tools can be used to provide for the care of a pet for the rest of their lives. New York allows the creation of pet trusts, which are essentially pools of money set aside to be managed by a trustee and used for the animal's care. For legal purposes, an animal is the property of the owner. Thefore, the animal cannot receive money directly. You can write a will leaving money for your dog, for example, but it won't have the intended affect, because an inheritance cannot be left to property. However, by using a trust, the animal can receive the fruits of those funds in a way that is binding under the law.

A representatives from the ASPCA summarized by noting that "Oftentimes, it's natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy that push people into action. Storms like this could be what motivates people to update their will or draft one in the first place. We want people to consider making those same arrangements for their care of their pets, so they don't end up homeless with no one to care for them."

For help with these and related estate plan issues in New York, please take a moment to call or visit one of our many offices across the state.

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August 22, 2011,

The most recent survey from the Humane Society found that there are at least 78.2 million owned dogs and 86.4 million owned cats in the United States. The data indicated that nearly 40% of all American households own a dog while roughly 33% own cats. Pet ownership rates are near the highest ever reported. In addition, many owners go to unprecedented lengths to integrate their animals into their families, from including them in annual Christmas card photos to ensuring they have a spot in all family vacations.

Considering the close bond so many families have with their animal friends, it is only natural that they would want to provide for them in an estate plan. Our New York estate planning attorneys know that in our area pet trusts are no longer only for the rich, famous, or eccentric. Recent research has shown that somewhere between 12 and 27 percent of pet owners provide some provisions for their animals in their wills. Many families have visited our office and expressed a wish to take legal steps to ensure that their beloved pet will have the resources they need for as long as they need them in the future. In fact, we have set up a relationship with providers of these services at www.PetEstates.com to help clients gain the peace of mind of knowing that their animal will be protected after they are gone.

It is vital to have professional help with these matters, because haphazard planning could risk leaving your pet without any support. A recent Reuters article took a look at these common pet trust pitfalls. Many large, high-profile pet trusts have been severely curtailed by judges. Ensuring that the trust includes only a reasonable amount necessary to account for the animal's well-being is important. Many problems can also be avoided if the trust names a caretaker who is willing to comply scrupulously with the terms of the trust. On top of that, if a trust names a final resting place for the pet it is important to check that the location will accept the animal. Most pets cannot be buried in mausoleums for humans in the United States.

Some legal advocates are calling for changes to make it even easier to recognize the role that pets play in the lives of many families. For example, some are urging an extension of the charitable remainder tax deduction to pet trusts. Others suggest that reforms should be advanced which would make it easier to create trusts for future generations of animals, known as grand-kid pets. One of those pursuing legal changes explained her belief that "American inheritance law is trapped in an outdated family paradigm. That paradigm assumed that the decedent's closest relatives by blood, adoption, or marriage are the most deserving recipients of the decedent's estate."

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July 13, 2011,

Pet estate planning is growing in popularity as more jurisdictions have begun allowing residents to create legal documents to provide for their animals after death. Pet trusts are becoming an important part of the New York estate planning process as New York is one of forty five states that permit owners to create these entities.

Yesterday, North Jersey News discussed the increasing use of pet trusts across the country. Many claim that the widely reported New York trust created by Leona Helmsley for her dog, Trouble, spurred the rise in popularity of the animal care giving option. Many area residents consider their beloved dogs, cats, birds and other animals to be members of their families, and so it is logical for those individuals to provide for their pets as part of their New York estate plan. Pet trusts are legal agreements which explain how an owner wants their animal to be provided for when they are no longer around. This includes the ability to leave money for the animal's care and designate specific individuals as trustee and guardian of the pet.

As with all planning documents, a New York pet trust should be carefully worded to ensure that animal friends are quickly turned over to designated caregivers when the time comes. Disputes may arise regarding the amount of money left to the animal, and so proper drafting of these trusts is essential. The basic amount to be left is usually reached by multiplying the animal's expected lifespan by the annual cost of care. Discovering that cost involves going through pet records to get an accurate accounting of how much money is spent on the pet each year. Food, grooming, veterinary bills, and other expenses add up quickly--sometimes the trust may even be funded with several hundred thousand dollars.

Besides setting aside funds for the animal's care, designating a trustee and guardian is crucial in the pet trust process. One animal advocate explained that, "much like an adoption, the goal is to make sure it will be a good match. You may love your best friend or family member, but they may not be a dog person." If necessary one individual can assume the role of the trustee while a different person can become the pet's actual guardian. As with all planning documents, proper review is important to ensure that the plan is updated and can help your animal at the moment needed.

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