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Who will care for Fido?

Pet owners can make sure that their pets will be properly cared for with a pet trust

July 24, 2010|by MARIE GILBERT
  • Barb Flook's dogs, Twister and Norm, will be taken care of if the dogs outlive her, thanks to a pet trust that allows owners to set up a special account to care for their pets if the owner will die.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

They are your best friends, your furry children, the givers of unconditional love.

You've bonded with them, pampered them and given them your heart.

But what will happen to your pets if you no longer are able to care for them?

Will they have a home? Will they be mistreated? Will they be abandoned or euthanized?

Such thoughts weighed heavily on the mind of Barb Flook of Lisbon, Md.

"It's something I've worried about for years," she said. "When a good friend passed away six years ago, her family made decisions about her dog that she would not have wanted. But she had no legal provisions for the dog."

Flook didn't want that to happen to her two dogs - an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie - or any other animals that might become a part of her family in the future.

She and her husband, Jim, wanted to be sure their pets' care and comfort would continue.

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They wanted to express their love, even after they were gone.

So she established a pet trust.

Now, she has peace of mind.

"The trust will provide funds for the care of our animals and oversight to insure the funds are spent properly and the care is adequate," she said.

Last October, Maryland became the 40th state, plus the District of Columbia, to permit the establishment of a pet trust.

Previously, Maryland pets had no legal rights regarding assets left by their owners for their care.

According to the Maryland State Bar Association, a pet trust can be established during the owner's lifetime or as a testamentary trust created under an owner's will. The trust terminates upon the death of the last animal beneficiary.

Barb Flook said she and her husband, Jim, turned to local attorney Jeanne Singer for help in establishing their pet trust.

"Prior to finding Jeanne, I had contacted the Maryland Bar Association and their online rep said they didn't currently have anyone specializing in pet trusts," Flook said. "I'd also contacted the law office that had prepared my dad's will. They said they could set something up for us. But I wasn't convinced they really had much experience with pet trusts."

Flook said she had done some dog training with local resident Pat Miller and knew that she and her husband, Paul - executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County - were active in animal rights.

"They suggested Jeanne Singer, who had done pet trusts for Humane Society supporters," Flook said. "In addition to Hagerstown, Jeanne had an office in Frederick. It was perfect for us."

Flook said it was important to both she and her husband to find someone with experience who was able to discuss the pros and cons of their options.

She is hopeful that as more people establish pet trusts, it will become easier to find a lawyer who specializes in the field.

Flook said she would highly recommend pet trusts to other animal owners.

"It was simple to accomplish, once you find a lawyer who is familiar with establishing a trust and who can guide you on the options," she said.

Before establishing a pet trust, the American Bar Association suggests finding a guardian, as well as backups in the event the designated person is unable to serve. It's a good idea to inform them of their selection and to receive their consent.

You also will have to decide how to fund the pet trust.

Finally, the trust should include instructions to ensure your pet has a comfortable life, including what food it likes to eat, which vet it is seeing, what medications it needs, even its favorite toys. Include anything, the ABA says, that will ensure the continuity of care.

You might also require regular inspection of your pets by a trustee and provide for the final disposition of your animal.

Owners can also designate a remainder beneficiary in the event the funds in the pet trust are not exhausted.

According to the ABA, the fee for setting up a pet trust varies, depending on the attorney and the type of trust.

Flook, who wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a child, said she always has loved animals and, with her husband, has raised dogs, horses and Hereford cattle.

She volunteers with Australian Shepherd Rescue and with Fidos For Freedom Inc., a service and therapy dog group.

Because of her love of animals, Flook knew the pet trust was the right thing to do.

"With the cost of pet care escalating, my husband and I wanted to continue to provide for any animals that we may have and ensure that they receive needed care," she said. "It does give you peace of mind."

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