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Setting up Fido for life after (your) death

We love to pamper our pets. From doggy bags and designer duds to pet psychologists and psychics, Americans take seriously the welfare and comforts of their furred and feathered friends. In fact, we spend over $8 billion annually just at the vet.

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The latest entry in the "I love you so much that ... " gesture: Pet owners can bequeath, legally and with due process, their worldly estates to Fido, Whiskers or Tweety.

Pet trusts have arrived!

More than a friend
Most pet owners consider their animal as family. For some, a pet is their only family and they want to ensure that their pets, who have given them love and loyalty, are taken care of.

Pet trust accounts provide the opportunity to do just that.

Not recognized nationally, yet
This eccentric, benevolent phenomenon is growing in popularity. Thirty-five states, and District of Columbia, have enacted full or partial consideration to the legality of pet trusts. Two states, California and Wisconsin, permit pet trusts but will not enforce them.

The primary stumbling block to the legal viability of pet trusts resides in what is commonly known as "the rule against perpetuity." The rule forbids trusts that last forever. Typically, states require pet trust money to be paid out within 21 years or, in some cases, upon the death of the last living animal covered by the trust. The rules were enacted to limit the abilities of the wealthy from becoming perpetual financial royalty.

Certain statutes have smoothed the way for pets to be recognized and protected by the legal system. Section 2-907 of the Uniform Probate Code, added in 1993, allows for a pet trust to be enforced by a designated person or for the courts to appoint one. Section 408 of the Uniform Trust Code adopted in 2000, allows for the same thing in states that enact the statute. Prior to 1993 naming a pet as a beneficiary was basically laughable but has since gained widespread acceptance.

Many states though are changing their rules against perpetuities, either doing away with them or making pet trusts an exception.

To find out whether your state allows pet trusts to be established and enforced, contact your state's attorney general or the local chapter of the Humane Society of the United States.

By the numbers ... pets and their masters
$36.3 billion
$14.7 billion
$8.7 billion
43.5 million
37.7 million
14.7 billion
6.4 million

Pets born with a silver collar
Common folks aren't the only ones leaving estates for their family pets.

Tobacco heiress Doris Duke left $100,000 in trust for her dog.

Actress Betty White, who played Rose on TV's "Golden Girls," is leaving her estimated $5 million estate to her animals.

And British singer Dusty Springfield, who scored on the pop charts here and abroad with such hits as "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and "Wishin' and Hopin'," stipulated that her cat Nicolas was to listen to her recordings each night at bedtime, to have his sleeping area lined with Dusty's nightgown and to be fed only imported baby food.

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