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Sure, it seemed ridiculous when Leona Helmsley left her Maltese pooch $12 million, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to start thinking about Fido’s well-being.By law, your pet is considered your property, much like a car or home.
But without proper documentation, your buddy could end up at an animal shelter with several years ahead of him, writes Kathryn Tuggle in Fox Business.
“The average person probably doesn’t think about it, but if you look at it logically and if the life expectancy of the pet is greater then the owner, it would be a good idea for [the owner] to consider a will or trust,” says Micheal W. Goldstein, an attorney for the Law Offices of Micheal W. Goldstein. “Otherwise, there would be no provision for the pet.”
If you’re already planning to write a will, including your pet won’t increase the cost by much.
You should make sure to designate at least two caregivers in case one option doesn’t pan out, advises Dogster. It’s also essential that you prepare a list of responsibilities for your caregiver, especially in case your pet becomes injured or fatally ill. Ask yourself, would you want the caregiver to put your pet down or seek another option?
In the event that something unfortunate does happen to you, it may take several weeks or months before your appointed caregiver is granted permission to care for your pet, says Goldstein. That’s because the will’s executor is required to petition to court for the caregiver’s ownership.
If you’re concerned about this intermediate period, you should consider a different route: setting up a trust. The advantage of a trust is that the trustee will receive authority automatically upon your inability to care for your pet. Trusts are typically drafted by lawyers and require a signature from you and your chosen caregiver.
“A living trust avoids probate court, which means the property passes by direction of the trust, like a contract,” says Goldstein. Intervention from the court is not needed, and there is no wait time.
“In some situations, a trust is better if there is nobody available to care for your pet,” Goldstein says. “Plus, if you leave [the caregiver] with some financing, they might be more inclined to take on the responsibilities.”
Another option is to get a pet protection agreement in which no prior funding or lawyer is needed. Pet owners can visit sites like LegalZoom.com where they’ll pay a small fee to draft a contract.
Attorney Frederic Siegel told Fox Business that pet owners should approach this process as they would if they were handling the care of a child. A parent wouldn’t dare leave his or her child in someone else’s care without a legal document, so pets should not be treated any differently.
Whichever option you consider, remember you don’t need to leave your pet $12 million for him to be taken care of.