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Lombard estate planning attorneyAn estate plan generally involves human heirs, such as children and grandchildren, but this is not always the case. Some individuals have non-human dependents to consider. Does that mean everyone should include their pet in an estate plan? Not necessarily, yet it might be worth considering if there is even the slightest possibility that your companion may outlive you. It is important to realize that this provision might be important, and how you can take the first step toward implementing it in your estate plan.

Why Plan for Your Pets?

When the owner of an animal dies or becomes incapacitated, the animal may end up at a shelters, especially if there are no family members who are willing to take on the responsibilities of surrogate pet ownership. It happens so frequently, in fact, that estimates suggest some 100,000 to 500,000 pets are admitted to a shelter after their owner’s death or incapacitation. How do these once companions end up in shelters?

Often, it is the friends, family, or children of the deceased that surrender them. Perhaps they do not have the room income to care for the animal, or have tried to care for it but do not know how to do so appropriately. Still others might have allergies, small children, or other extenuating circumstances that make caring for an animal difficult or nearly impossible.

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Posted on in Division of Property

DuPage County divorce lawyersMaybe he is your best hunting companion, spending countless hours together in the woods or tracking game. Maybe she likes to curl up on your lap while you watch television or against your body while you sleep. Companion animals like dogs and cats play such a significant role in the everyday lives of millions of people. You would never consider taking your leafblower hunting nor would you want to cuddle up with a set of silverware and cup of hot cocoa. However, if you are going through a divorce, most states recognize companion animals simply as property, no different than the household items in these impractical examples.

Working Together

Communication and compromise are important tools for any divorcing couple when making arrangements for parental responsibilities and the division of property. Placing a dispute in the hands of the court to decide can lead to contentious hearings and an outcome that leaves one or both partners unhappy. When custody of pets is at issue, however, compromise is even more imperative. While there are some small signs of change around the country, most courts are not nearly as concerned with a pet’s best interest as they are with that of a child.

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DuPage County estate planning lawyerIn the process of preparing your estate plan, you have probably given a great deal of thought to which of your children, grandchildren, or other loved ones will receive certain assets or a portion of your estate. For example, if you only have one soon-to-be teenage grandchild, you may decide that he or she should inherit your paid-off car. With all of these considerations to be made, it can be relatively easy to forget about the companion animals with whom you share you home. Can your estate plan include provisions for caring for your dog or cat after your death?

Understanding Pet Trusts

The short answer is yes. There are ways that you can provide for the protection and well-being of domestic animals in your estate plan. Illinois law allows you to establish a trust with the sole purpose of providing care for “one or more designated domestic or pet animals.” The law itself is not very specific as to what types of animals may be covered, but case law precedents have been set to allow for the care of dogs, cats, horses, and a variety of others.

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pets, Lombard family law attorneyThere is little question that family pets have a special place in the hearts of many people. In fact, as many as two-thirds of all American households own at least one dog or cat. Owning a pet, of course, can be very beneficial to both the family and the animal, but what happens in the event of divorce? Does either party have presumed rights to keep the animals or to visitation? In the state of Illinois, the answer is rather unclear as a matter of law, and recent appellate court decision has not really helped to clarify the law’s intent.

Children and Property

According to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, considerations in a divorce must be made for a couple’s children and the disposition of property. These, obviously, are very reasonable, but, for many families, pets seem to fall somewhere in between. Dogs and cats may not be as important as children–although to couples without children they may be—but they are certainly more valuable than a piece of furniture or artwork. Without statutory guidance, each case must be considered individually.

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