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New Jersey estate planning: What happens to the family pet?

There are a lot of decisions to make when setting up an estate plan. Taking care of loved ones and deciding what assets will to go which beneficiaries can be overwhelming at times. But what about a person's pet? Many states, including New Jersey, allow for a person's estate planning to include a trust set up for the family pet.

Many people either don't think about it at all or make the assumption that someone will step up and take in their pets. That doesn't always happen. Setting up a trust for a pet can not only ensure that someone is willing to take care of the pet as trustee, but the trust can also include an amount of money set aside just for the pet's care. Just as in any other trust, the maker can specify how the pet will be taken care of, what kind of food is to be purchased, what vet to use and any other instructions.

Deciding how much money to put into a pet trust can be as simple as adding up a year's worth of expenses and multiply it by the pet's expected lifespan then add a bit of a cushion for emergencies. The main reason that a trust is the best way to accomplish this is because a will only takes effect once a person has died. A trust can be used if the pet's owner becomes incapacitated. Also, if a will is used as the tool to take care of a pet, it could take some time for that pet to be properly taken care of since the will has to be filed with the court and certain procedures have to be followed before anything can be done.

Making a pet part of the estate planning process can not only put the person making the plan at ease, but also family members who may not otherwise know what to do with the pet or how to pay for that pet's expenses. Many people in New Jersey view their pets as being just as much a member of the family as children. For this reason, taking care of that pet after death just makes sense.

Source: kiplinger.com, "Put a Plan in Place to Ensure Pets' Care," Eleanor Laise, June 16, 2013