- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Should cat lover Nita Fahey die before her pets do, Jeepers and BC won't miss a single meal of Fancy Feast.
That's because Mrs. Fahey has set up a trust that provides $5,000 for the critters' food, shelter and medical care.
Thanks to a new Florida law set to take effect Jan. 1, a dog or cat, horse or bird can be not only a man's best friend but also his most esteemed heir.
Many pet owners already buy health insurance to cover their furry friends' medical bills. In the latest intersection of pets and pocketbooks, state lawmakers this year passed a measure that lets animal lovers create "pet trusts" to provide for animals after their owners die.
Some surely will go to extremes. One area lawyer, for instance, has a client who plans to leave everything to Fido and nothing to the kids or grandkids.
Mrs. Fahey isn't so mean-spirited. The 82-year-old, who doesn't consider herself wealthy, also plans to leave some money to her granddaughter.
But she'll bequeath cash to Jeepers, 3, and BC, 12, to make sure they're not put to sleep after she's gone.
"My family says they'll take care of them," Mrs. Fahey said. "But after I'm gone, they can do anything they want. My cats have given me a lot of happiness, and I don't want anything to happen to them."
Florida law already allows a pet owner to set aside money to take care of the animal. But such an arrangement isn't binding, so courts are unable to enforce the late owner's wishes if the pet's new caretaker skips the doggy treats or catnip and spends the money on human pleasures instead.
Heirs often "keep the money and get rid of the dog," said state Sen. Locke Burt, Ormond Beach Republican and sponsor of the bill that created the pet trusts. "Under Florida law, that was an honorary trust. It was not enforceable. So it was, 'Trust me.'"
Mr. Burt first learned of the issue after several constituents complained to him about the hole in the trust law. After verifying the animal lovers' concerns with trust attorneys, he decided to champion the issue. Lawmakers unanimously approved the pet trusts this year, and Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill into law in April.
The new law slams the door on the practice of euthanizing pets after the owner dies which is perfectly legal, if far from faithful to the dead pet owner's wishes. Animal lovers will be able to name a pet as a beneficiary and appoint a trustee a friend, relative or, in Mrs. Fahey's case, lawyer who makes sure the animal is treated well.
The trend toward pet trusts is not new. Florida joins a handful of states, including California and New York, that allow people to name animals as beneficiaries in their wills.
Typically, setting up such a trust costs a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars in legal fees. If the animal is neglected, a judge will have the power to order that the money in the trust is used for the pet's care. However, a relative or friend of the late animal lover would have to point out the neglect and bring it to a judge's attention.
What about wealthy pet owners who demand that Felix eats caviar or Fido munches filet mignon? A judge will have the authority to nix excessive spending on a pet.
"Your heirs can go to the judge and say, 'The dog doesn't need $100 million,'" Mr. Burt said.
Once the pet dies, any money left in the trust goes to the late owner's heirs, typically children, grandchildren or charity. Inga Hanley, founder of the Adopt A Cat Foundation in Lake Park, encourages her nonprofit's members to set up pet trusts.
"It's a wonderful idea," she said. "I don't know how many times the children say, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of the cat,' and then the body isn't even cold in the ground and the animal is taken to the pound or is at the vet being put down."
Dog lovers John and Bobbie Ford set up a trust so their two golden retrievers aren't a burden on the Fords' children. The Fords, owners of publishing firm BarCharts Inc., set aside enough cash to provide $10,000 a year for the pooches' care.
The couple, both in their late 50s, plan to leave most of their money to their grown children and other relatives. But the trust arranges for the Fords' housekeeper to take in Chelsea, 10, and Patches, 8.
John Ford said he feels a special responsibility to his pets because his German shepherd, now dead, once saved him from drowning while Mr. Ford was diving in the Atlantic Ocean off Deerfield Beach.
"If anything were to happen to us in all of our travels," Mr. Ford asked, "what's going to happen to our dogs?"

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