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Remembering Pets in Wills

August 31st, 2007 at 02:39 pm

Since Leona Helmsley's will and the fact that she left $12 million to her dog has been so much in the news lately, I thought this might be a good time to explain how we "little people" can make sure that our beloved four-legged children are taken care of long after we have departed this earth.

When my DH & I had our estate documents made, we did make a provision for our pets. We did not have a special document, we just had a paragraph inserted in the wills. Here is a direct quote from my will; I have left a few things blank for the sake of anonymity:

" ... I intend that the first xxx Dollars ($xxx) of ... my estate shall go to fund a trust for the benefit of any pets we own at the time of our deaths. My brother, xxx xxx, shall be the physical custodian and caretaker of our pets. He shall receive reimbursement for any funds actually spent for the care and welfare of said pets, and shall also receive compensation for his services, to be determined by the Trustee. My sister, xxx xxx, shall be the Trustee of this Trust, holding and managing the above sum for the benefit of our pets, as she sees fit, in her sole and absolute discretion. At such time as all of our pets are deceased, if any funds remain in this Trust, said funds shall be donated to a pet-related charity such as "xxx xxx" or "xxx xxx"in a proportion as the Trustee sees fit."

When I sent the Estate Documents and my "Letter of Instructions" to my Trustee sister, I included some comments and this is what I wrote to her about the Pet Trust:

"There is a large amount ($xxx) earmarked for a pet trust. You would probably want to set up a separate checking account for this, and have the trust file a tax return, so that you don't end up paying the taxes on the interest out of your pocket. Yes, we do realize that $xxx is a huge amount of money to leave to pet(s), and we definitely do NOT intend for our surviving pet(s) to live in the lap of luxury ... No Louis Vuitton dog collars, please!!! The reason this amount is so large is because:
- We want to leave ample money to cover our pets expenses
- We would never want any family members to have to pay for our pets expenses out of their own pockets
- We want xxx to be paid for the care he provides our pets
- We want to leave money to a pet-related charity, but only after all of the above-mentioned obligations have been fulfilled."

Compared to the amount that little Trouble Helmsley received, calling the amount we are leaving "large" is quite laughable. However, everything is relative, and compared to what our lawyer told us the average person leaves for their pets (a few hundred dollars) and as a percentage of our "estate" it is quite large.

Our pets are our responsibility, and when we bring them in to our family we are commiting to provide for them. That is why we felt it was important to make sure they would be taken care of (not pampered or spoiled, mind you, but have their basic needs met) for the rest of their lives.

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