According to the Humane Society of the United States, 39 percent of U.S. households have at least one dog and 33 percent have at least one cat. Together, we own more than 77 million dogs and 93 million cats! Then there are the 12 million birds and 7 million horses, together with our tropical fish, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, lizards, snakes, turtles…you get the picture. We Americans really love our pets.

Responsible Pet Owners Month was created to remind us about the importance of properly caring for our companion animals. What does responsible pet ownership entail? Much of the emphasis is on dogs and cats, since they are far and away the most popular. Spaying or neutering stands at the top of the list. Every year, 8 million cats and dogs, many of them strays, wind up in animal shelters across the country. Of these, more than half are put down.

Responsible pet ownership of a dog includes proper training, feeding a balanced diet, cleaning up after your dog on walks, regular grooming, providing plenty of attention and exercise, and making sure your pet has an up-to-date identification tag implanted, or at least on a collar.

As an estate planning law firm, we think this is also a good time to remind you that while companion animals are sometimes our very best friends in life, they are often not provided for in estate plans. Shelters and veterinarians euthanize an estimated 500,000 pets each year when their owners die before them. While an outright gift to an animal is void under law in some states, the creation of an honorary trust for the care of your beloved animal companions is generally permissible. For example, you can leave your pet to a specific caregiver and create a trust to benefit the caregiver, with specific instructions on how to utilize the funds left for the pet’s care.

The main objective of using a trust to care for your pet is to provide a flexible method for managing financial assets for the benefit of any pets that survive you. By using a trust, you can designate a party to act as guardian or caretaker for the pet. Furthermore, a trust allows you to leave specific instructions concerning the standard of care and special needs of your beloved companion animal.

In honor of Responsible Pet Owners Month, we suggest that you give your beloved companion some extra treats this week. But not too many—that would be irresponsible!

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