In the event of my death or disability, I, __________________, wish to provide for the care and financial support of my pets. They are important members of my family and the purpose of this trust is to ensure they are cared for in a manner consistent with my wishes.The first time clients asked Crofton lawyer Amber Litchfield about providing for their pet in a will, it gave her pause.Litchfield, who has been doing wills and estates since 2007, had never considered clients might want to make sure their pooch or cat is pampered after they pass on.She’s come to realize there’s an untapped market out there.”Over the years, more and more people were concerned about their pets and they were bringing it up to me,” she said.In 2012, Litchfield started doing pet trusts, which provide a better guarantee of care than a provision in a will. She did a few here and there, but found that the market for the service was growing. Since the start of this year, she estimates she’s done about a half-dozen per month (at about $1,000 each) and can foresee the day when that segment of the wills and estates market is all she does.Kathy Rude, who runs Rude Ranch Animal Rescue, a nonprofit animal sanctuary in Harwood with her husband, Bob, has also seen an increase in pet-owners seeking this arrangement.”(The phenomenon) has been around for a while, but it’s getting to be a growing trend,” she said. “For more and more people, their animals are like their children, and there’s a lot of people who have pets rather than children. There’s a lot of concern about what’s going to happen with their animals if something happens to them.”People set up arrangements so the shelter is the beneficiary of their life insurance policy, with either a lump sum set aside for the care of a beloved pet, or a certain amount of money allocated every month.Litchfield is well aware of the stereotypes about “crazy cat ladies” or eccentric millionaires who leave behind unimaginable sums for the care of their pets. She mentioned those stories in a workshop she held recently in Crofton.”The people I represent — I don’t think they’re crazy,” said Litchfield, who owns a greyhound named Rico. “They just feel strongly about the welfare and well-being of their pets.”Her best advice: Set up a trust to guarantee the care for your pet after your gone. Making arrangements — written or otherwise — are no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out, she said. Putting provisions in a will is also risky. An angry child or spouse could contest the will in court, which could delay the execution of the will for months, or even years. In the meantime, your pet llama could be in legal limbo.Whether your favorite animal is canine, feline or equine, here’s Litchfield’s bottom line: A pet trust, delineating what you want for your pet and how much the caregiver can spend for their care, is the best approach.”In all honesty, trusts work better in human estate planning as well,” Litchfield said. “It’s particularly important for pets because they don’t have the same protection under the law. Unless you have a trust, you can’t really make provisions for how your pet is cared for.”Litchfield’s message seemed to resonate with people who attended her workshop.When her father died unexpectedly in February, Crofton’s Kari Whitman never thought about making arrangements to take care of his two cats. Fortunately, a neighbor stepped in and made sure the animals are getting excellent care. That story had a happy ending.But Whitman, who has two cats of her own, realized it could have been different.”I think back on all our conversations and that way he cared for them,” she said. “This strikes home. I really need to do something and prepare.””Too often, people put off stuff like this and never get back to it,” said Steve Waidelich, also of Crofton. “Then someone else is left to pick up the pieces.”Litchfield advises you don’t have to be old or rich to make plans for your pet’s care. Not everyone can be like actress and animal advocate Betty White, now 90. White has set up a trust for her golden retriever Pontiac, setting aside $5 million for his care.Lucky dog.
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