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Estate planning for the care of your furry friends

Whether one owns a dog, a cat or any other furry companion, pets provide unconditional love in our lives. Floridians who have gone through the estate planning process may have given very careful and thorough thought to their family members' needs after they pass away. However, Floridians should not neglect to address their pet's needs in the estate planning process.

Floridians may not realize that, unless there is language stating otherwise, once they pass their pet will be treated as a piece of "personal property," not unlike the deceased's collections or jewelry. Sometimes there is a friend or relative willing to take on the care of the pet, but not always. That is why having a "pet trust" can be important.

A pet trust is an estate planning tool that provides for the care and financial costs associated with their pet. Pet trusts can be created and assets can be transferred into it while the pet owner is alive. Alternatively, a pet trust can take effect and be funded through the owner's will after the owner dies. A pet trust will name who is to care for the pet after the pet owner passes away and it will provide for the financial maintenance associated with caring for the pet.

That being said, pet owners should also consider drafting a Letter of Final Wishes that can address who will take care of the pet temporarily while the legal aspects of the pet trust are being sorted out. A Letter of Final Wishes can also contain information as to the pet's care, such as the type of food the pet eats, any medication the pet takes and the veterinarian's name and phone number.

When a person owns a pet, he or she takes on the responsibility of caring for that pet for the rest of the pet's life. While we certainly give our animal friends the best life possible while we are alive, it is important to remember that sometimes a pet will outlive its owner. However, through proper estate planning, pet owners can ensure that their four-legged companions are taken care of.

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning: Include Your Pets!," Rob Clarfeld, March 30, 2017

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