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Estate planning strategies that secure the future of your pets

When it comes to pets and estate planning, few animals were as fortunate as Trouble. The white Maltese owned by Leona Helmsley, the late hotel magnate, received a $12 million dollar inheritance in 2007 -- a seemingly hefty sum if you do not take into account the dog's annual living expenses estimated at $190,000.

While you can't take it with you, your pets can benefit from your largesse through a will and/or trust document.

Pet trusts continue to grow in prominence. Florida and most states recognize them as a valid part of an estate plan. Without one, animals can be placed in shelters with some euthanized following the death or incapacitation of their owners.

Pets, while considered property with limited legal rights, can inherit money that takes into account their age, health and past lifestyle. Owners name the caretaker (and preferably an alternate) or caretakers if multiple animals are involved. The individual designated follows the instructions on how to use the money.

Upon the death of the pet, the trust clarifies the disposal of the remaining funds and the handling of the animal's remains.

Selecting the right individual -- or in some cases, an organization -- should be someone who you not only respect to carry out the plans, but also share your commitment to the animals who are a large part of your life.

With the help of an attorney, proactive steps in preparing a will or establishing a trust are essential to make your wishes known upon your incapacitation or death. Your family and pets are entitled to that peace of mind during difficult times.

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