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What happens to my pets if I die or become incapacitated?

Pet owners want to make sure their beloved pets are taken care of after their death. A pet trust may be an effective way to do this.

Pets are members of the family for most of the millions of Americans who own them. It stands to reason that those who have a dog, cat or other furry, feathered or scaled family member, want their animals to continue to receive loving care if they pass on before their pets. Fortunately, there are ways that Florida residents can secure the well-being of their pets after their death or incapacitation. One of the most effective of these methods is a pet trust.

Trusts are customizable legal tools that allow people to provide for family members in a more individualized way than a simple will. With a trust, someone can make sure the needs of a disabled adult child are taken care of, or designate that a grandchild receives an inheritance under certain circumstances, such as graduating from college. Pet trusts allow pet owners much of the same flexibility and planning freedoms. Establishing a pet trust is not merely convenient - it can be a necessary move, states Bankrate, since animals cannot legally inherit property. Therefore, it is not possible to simply designate a certain amount of money to be left to one's pets in a will. Pet owners must leave funds and instructions for the care of a pet to a trustee, who carries out these wishes according to the trust's designation.

Why create a pet trust and not simply leave a pet to a family member in the will?

Since pets are legally considered property, they can be left to another family member in a will. This option may present no problems if everyone agrees to the terms. For example, an adult grandchild may agree to take care of Grandma's cats after her death. Grandma can write her preference into her will, and then rest assured that her furry loved ones have a good home if she dies before they do.

If, however, Grandma's relative discovers one of her children has a cat allergy or for another reason is unable to take the cats, a problem may ensue. The cats might go to another family member who is not as committed to providing for their health and comfort, or they may end up abandoned or in a shelter.

Creating a pet trust may help to circumvent unforeseeable situations such as this. An effective pet trust might include the following:

· Designation of a trustee, usually the person the pet owner wishes to take over the care of the pets

· A secondary trustee in case the first choice is not able to take over the responsibilities

· Money set aside for the care of the animals

· Explanations on the type of food the pet eats and feeding instructions

· Veterinary information, including the preferred vet, immunizations, medications and veterinary visit schedule

· Additional information for the comfort and happiness of the pet, such as preferred toys, how the pet likes to play or go on walks and grooming instructions

It may be wise for pet owners to discuss their wishes with any potential trustees before setting up a trust. In this way, everyone knows what is expected and the pet owner can decide who is best suited and willing to take over the care of a pet. An experienced Florida estate planning attorney may be able to advise on setting up a pet trust.

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