As a lawyer concentrating in estate planning, Peter Canalia was frequently was asked by clients to set up trusts for their pets.
He's established trusts for dogs and champion racehorses and recently launched a service he hopes will make pet trusts affordable for just about anyone who wants to make sure their dog, cat, parakeet or whatever is cared for after they're gone.
"For many people, a pet becomes a part of your life," said Canalia, who set up a trust fund for his own pet poodle. "The pet becomes as important to you as a child."
The Crete, Ill., resident who practices in Lansing describes Peace of Mind Pet Trust as "the nation's most competitively priced, bona fide pet trust" set up by a licensed trust attorney.
The name was inspired by an unmarried Chicago man who hired Canalia to set up a trust for his dog.
"He said it gave him peace of mind knowing that his pet would be taken care of," the lawyer said.
There are lots of stories about people leaving money in their will for a pet after they're gone and designating a caregiver. The only problem is there's no guarantee that person won't turn around and euthanize Fido, then spend the money on a big-screen TV.
With a pet trust, a caregiver is named, as well as a trustee who'll keep an eye on how the money earmarked for the pet is being spent, Canalia said. The trust can spell out any detail the pet owner thinks is important, from the type of food the pet should be fed to how frequently it should be walked.
He became interested in making pet trusts available to a broader audience after reading a New York Times article about trusts. The story cited a statistic from a California organization, 2nd Chance 4 Pets, that more than a half-million pets are killed in shelters and veterinary offices each year after their owners die without making arrangements for the animals.
Illinois is one of 38 states that allow pet owners to set up trusts, but they're not a need for every pet owner. Often, other family members will step up and care for a pet after the owner dies.
"A trust may be more for someone who doesn't have family in the area -- or perhaps never married and doesn't have children," Canalia said.
To people of modest means, the idea of establishing a trust for a pet might seem extravagant.
"People have the perception that trusts are just for rich people," he said.
Pet owners don't have to set aside tens of thousands of dollars for their pet, and one option is to buy a fairly inexpensive life insurance policy that names their pet's trust fund as beneficiary, Canalia said.
"How much you set aside in the trust is going to depend on the type of animal it is, its expected life span and estimating how much would be needed annually to care for the pet," he said.
The cost of simply setting up a trust might scare off some pet owners, he said, noting some lawyers charge $1,000 or more for the service. Peace of Mind trusts cost $89 and can be downloaded at www.peaceofmindpettrust.com.
"If you go on to the Internet, you can find pet trusts out there," Canalia said. "The only one I found comparable [with Peace] is five times the cost."
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