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New Jersey estate planning: Plan for pets in a natural disaster

When someone thinks of estate planning, it is often with the thought that it will only be needed after someone has lived a long life. However, with the recent devastation and loss of life brought to New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy, estate planning is again in the picture. This time it's for pets. A hurricane forecast is often fraught with guessing and sometimes panic, but when a city is struck by such a damaging storm, our loved ones and pets can often become lost in the chaos.

The United States has been struck with some catastrophic storms over the last 10 years. When Hurricane Katrina was poised to strike Louisiana, people were often left with the difficult decision of finding shelter and deciding whether they could take their beloved pet with them. The ASPCA has startling numbers attributed to pets entering their doors because their guardian died or become otherwise unable to continue caring for them. They estimate over 100,000 animals are placed in shelters each year because their owner failed to plan for them after they died.

Storms are often the catalyst that encourages people to update their estate plans. However, it is recommended that people also include their animals just in case something happens that could leave the animal homeless. Many of these animals wind up in shelters because owners don't address them in their plans. While no one would forget a child, many don't see their animals as property, so issues of guardianship or the creation of animals trusts aren't brought up.

A pet trust is often associated with the ultra-wealthy. However, pet trust funds are beginning to become more popular. With the recent events of Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, more people are beginning to see the pros to making an estate plan to govern their animals and themselves in the event of such a disaster. For New Jersey residents, making room for the pets while estate planning can ensure their furry friends continues to stay inside of a loving home, long after their owner has passed on.

Source: CNBC, "Estate Planning for Your Pet? Superstorm Argues Yes," Jacoba Urist, Nov. 19, 2012

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