A trust can protect a beloved animal after its owner dies

Mutts:A mix of news and features for pet lovers

August 26, 2007|By Ruth Mantell | Ruth Mantell,McClatchy-Tribune

Some of us need more looking after than others. Take Shelley, for example. The black standard poodle gets acupuncture every other week to treat her arthritis.

She is also named, along with another dog and three cats, to benefit from a $10,000 trust fund if her owners die before she does.

"Our pets are an extremely important part of our lives. It's critical that our pets will be well cared for," said Joan Bortnick-Wimbish, Shelley's owner.

Bortnick-Wimbish, a former personal shopper at Bloomingdale's, is in her early 70s. The Virginia Beach, Va., woman established the trust for her pets this year in a process that took about two weeks.

Bortnick-Wimbish is one of a growing number of pet owners who are looking to ensure that their animal companions will be secure after the end of their journey together.

About 63 percent of households in the U.S. own a pet -- that's about 71.1 million homes, according to a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.

As many as 25 percent of families with pets have provided for them through wills or trusts, said Sara Amundson, executive director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

"People really consider pets as members of their family," she said.

Pet trusts began to gain steam in the early 1990s, and now 39 states and the District of Columbia have come to recognize them, according to Amundson.

There is also proposed legislation in the House of Representatives to amend the Internal Revenue Code to treat charitable remainder pet trusts like similar trusts for people.

Pet trusts enable owners to leave money earmarked for the care of their animals, and specify how they want pets to be treated. In comparison, wills are used for disbursing assets, but instructions about treatment are not enforceable.

But before naming friends or loved ones as trustees for your pet and funds, make sure they're ready.

Expect to spend at least $1,500 to $2,000 to establish a trust, which requires the skills of a professional, according to Kim Bressant-Kibwe, trusts and estates counsel with American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

If you don't want to spend the cash or time on a trust, try setting up a bank account with someone whom you trust to care for your animal.

"Pick the right person and hope that when the time comes that they'll have enough integrity to follow your wishes," Bressant-Kibwe said.

"Leaving a little money for them sweetens the deal."

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