Sit, Stay, Create a Trust Detroit attorneys pen book to help the pet owning public

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

You dote on your dog, care for your cat, pamper your parrot, love your lizard, and fret over your fish.
But what will happen to these much-loved pets when you die?

Bob Kass and Betty Carrie, estate planning attorneys with Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker in Detroit, answer that question in their new book, “Who Will Care When You’re Not There?” The book, about estate planning for pet owners, was launched at the Detroit Kennel Club Dog Show in early March.

 “The book deals with an important issue for the pet owning public, which includes not only dogs and cats, but parrots – that can live up to 100 years – horses and more,” Kass says. “What will happen to your animal when you are no longer there to care for it?” 

Pet Trusts are a niche practice for estate planners, he says.

“This book educates the pet owner on why it’s important to make plans, issues to address, and how to implement the plan – with online document preparation service like LegalZoom or consultation with a lawyer experienced in this area of the law. Since it’s a serious topic, we decided to lighten it up with full-color whimsical illustrations by a nationally known pet artist, and inspirational quotes throughout.

“We expect this will provide many opportunities to reach out to pet owners. The first will be a series of seminars on estate planning for pet owners Leader Dogs for the Blind in May, followed by a cable TV interview on a show which features legal issues.” 

Kass, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University, J.D. at the University of Michigan, and LL.M. in taxation from the New York University Law School, has specialized in estate planning, wealth preservation, and planned giving, for estates of all sizes for more than 25 years.

“I’m currently ‘between’ pets,” he says. “Pet ownership is a huge responsibility which should not be taken lightly.”

Carrie, who earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Eastern Michigan University, J.D. and LL.M. in taxation from the University of Florida, practices in the areas of taxation, corporate, partnership and limited liability company law, and estate planning and administration.

The two, who talked to pet owners and other attorneys, were shocked by many of the stories, Kass says.

In a recent case they heard about, a woman who was terminally ill decided a co-worker she had known for decades should care for her 3-year-old Cocker Spaniel.

“She had her lawyer draft a pet trust, with a third party as trustee. She even went to the trouble to have her dog stay with the proposed guardian for several days to make sure her dog got along with the guardian and the guardian’s dog. It seemed to work fine,” Kass says.

“When she died, $20,000 was given to the trustee of the pet trust for the dog’s care. However, the guardian then demanded the $20,000 from the trustee and, when the trustee refused, gave the dog back.”

Another attorney told Kass and Carrie about a client who left his nephew $5,000 to take care of his cat.

After the man died, the nephew asked the executor for the $5,000. 

“Where’s the cat?” asked the executor. “I took care of it,” replied the nephew.

He had euthanized the cat. Fortunately, the judge did not agree with this interpretation and declined to order payment of the $5,000.

In another case, an 80-year-old horse owner died, and his wife is frail and unable to care for their 20-year old horse. The family asked the vet to euthanize it, but the vet refused.

“One person who reviewed our book has two horses, descendants of horses that came over from Spain on Columbus’s second voyage,” Kass says. “They are very particular horses. Her children aren’t interested in horses and/or don’t have time to care for them, and she’s very concerned about what will happen to them if she’s unable to care for them. She is considering naming a person she shares a boarding arrangement with, but needs to formalize the money side – to create and arrange for funding of a pet trust.”

A Virginia attorney Kass met at a conference recently is handling an estate with four horses.

“He’s willing to ship anywhere just to find them good homes,” Kass says. “I have a cousin in Kentucky who is a horse owner and has agreed to help out.”

Lawyers may want to buy the book to give or loan to clients, to encourage them to address this topic in their estate planning, and a major trust company has purchased the book in quantity to distribute to its better clients, Kass says.

“We received rave reviews from the chair of the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section, as well as from a noted expert on animal law at MSU College of Law. While writing even a short book is not easy, it’s great to get your arms around a topic and educate the public, and the reactions to this book have made it all worthwhile. Pet owners are passionate about their pets.”

Carrie writes about her relationship – and challenges – with her dog, Lexy, in the book’s preface. Lexy is a highly allergic, 13-year-old German Shepherd and Carrie works with veterinarians, including an allergy and dermatology specialist, to keep the allergies under control. Lexy was on a temporary diet of ostrich and sweet potatoes and now gets weekly allergy and antibacterial injections. The current medical challenge is managing her arthritic hips. 

“For a ‘free’ dog, Lexy has proven to be pretty expensive. Over our 11 years together, I’ve easily spent over $30,000 on her medical care,” Carrie says. “As Bob shared client horror stories with me and the vet bills piled up, I began to seriously think about what would happen to Lexy if something happened to me.

“While my parents would take over her care, it’s my responsibility to provide for her care.  It became increasingly clear to me that I needed to make some provisions for Lexy’s care in my estate planning documents.

“Advance planning for our pets’ care when we aren’t around isn’t just for horse owners and breeders, it’s something that every owner of a ‘special needs’ pet needs to consider.”

The book begins with a quote from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Stain-Exupery that Carrie says captures the spirit of the book: “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it.

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. .  .”  

For further information about the book, table of contents, sample chapters, and prepublication reviews, see www.carobtreepress.com.

This is Kass’s second book, the first being a layman’s guide to estate settlement, “What Do We Do Now? A Practical Guide to Estate Administration for Widows, Widowers & Heirs,” soon to be published in a second edition.

“The law is so complicated that we, as attorneys, really have to make things simpler for the public by sharing basic information on legal topics in a way it can be easily understood. That’s what these books are all about,” says Kass, who formed Carob Tree Press, LLC just for this purpose.

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