| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 13 It is a sad story when seniors'
pets show up at an animal shelter: they are often abandoned when
their owners become infirm or die without insuring that the pets
will be taken in by someone else.
Wills and estate plans are hard enough for most people to
fathom. Only 67 percent of Americans over 55 have any sort of
written testament, according to FindLaw, a unit of Thomson
Legal planning for pets is rare.
That is because provisions for pets are considered a fancy
of the ultra-rich. Much of the negative association is due to
the 2007 lawsuit over real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley's
attempt to leave $12 million to her dog. (It was cut to $2
Setting up a trust for pets such as cats, dogs and horses
has evolved since then, and now there are ways for pet owners to
prepare simple and inexpensive documents that can insure their
beloved companions do not end up abandoned.
One place to start is the ASPCA's pet planning website(here).
There are also ways to download pet protection agreements, such
as at the online service LegalZoom (bit.ly/2hm4Po9),
which start at $39.
Reuters spoke with Rachel Hirschfeld (www.pettrustlawyer.com/),
the attorney who developed LegalZoom's agreement, about why
animal owners need to think about their pets' futures.
Q: What happens to a pet when the owner is incapacitated or
dies and there is no plan for them?
A: If animals have been abandoned, by law, they are required
to go to a city shelter. They are property.
Q: How many people in your experience make a provision for
their pets in their wills?
A: It's about 25 percent. Putting a sentence in the will is
the cheapest. There's not really any added cost to what you are
doing. You just say, 'I leave my dog to...'
You might want to add more, and say, 'my dog only eats this
kind of food, please take him to this vet.'
Q: What if you want to leave funds for the care of the pet
and more detailed instructions in a formal document?
A: You go to an attorney and pay the price. Some people do
it for $750. I've heard of more than $2,500.
Choose wisely. It's not the cost that makes a good
agreement; it's the talent. I caution people to only go to a
lawyer who has done them successfully. If you don't know what
you are doing, you can get sued.
Q: Do you have to provide funds to care for your pets when
A: You don't have to leave a dime, or leave as much as you
want. The average person that I've dealt with leaves $25,000.
But funds are not required.
The most important thing is to leave beneficiaries in
percentiles that equal 100 percent, not exact dollar amounts.
Because if you say you are leaving $1,000.00, and there's
$1000.01 in the account (or less than the exact amount), you
could have problems because then a court would have to decide
what to do about the excess (or deficit). The goal is to keep it
out of court.
Q: You have adopted abandoned elderly dogs at the shelter.
Does you use your own agreement for them?
A: I wrote the agreement for my own animals. It started off
with different pets, but the agreement is for all the pets that
I have when I need this to be enacted.
I just adopted two dogs. I was at a shelter helping
somebody, and there were these two dogs there that had been left
by a woman whose father had just died and her mother had died a
few years earlier.
I saw them there huddled and scared to death. Two weeks
later, I came back, and they were still there. If that man and
his wife were looking down, can you imagine? So I adopted them.
(Editing by Lauren Young and Dan Grebler)