Your Money: Pet lovers like Helmsley plan ahead

One option: Include a bequest in your will, leaving your pet, and money to cover its care, to a trusted friend or family member. Keep in mind, though, that this doesn't offer the legal protection of a trust.

Alternatively, if a friend or relative has agreed to care for your pet, you could set up a separate bank account to cover expenses and name the caretaker as the beneficiary, Bressant-Kibwe says.

Many pet owners assume that a family member will step in and adopt their pets if they're no longer around. But that's not always the case. Maggie, now one of O'Daire's cats, spent 10 months in a shelter after her owner went into a nursing home. The woman had children, but none of them wanted the cat.

When O'Daire first approached Maggie at the shelter, the cat didn't want to have anything to do with her.

"She was so devastated in the shelter," O'Daire says. "No one wanted to adopt her."

Within hours of leaving the shelter, though, "She was on my lap," O'Daire says. "She's a beautiful, wonderful cat."

Maggie's story ends happily, but her experience points up the importance of estate planning for pets.

"You always know someone will take care of your kids," O'Daire says, "but you don't know that someone will take care of your cats."

Sandra Block covers personal finance for USA TODAY. Her Your Money column appears Tuesdays. Click here for an index of Your Money columns. E-mail her at: sblock@usatoday.com.

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