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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