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Posted: June 01, 2011

Small biz: Representing four-legged trust funders

Mike Taylor

Casey Cassinis is used to getting mixed
reactions when she explains her fledgling law practice, The Cassinis Pet Trust Firm.

Setting up a trust for Sparky to ensure he's cared for if you precede him in death is a thoughtful act, no doubt. But it's impossible not to think of Leona Helmsley, the New York billionaire who died and left her dog $12 million, later reduced to $2 million by a judge.

"I'm actually trying to change that mentality," says Cassinis, referring to the stereotype that only the wealthy - and perhaps the zany - have pet trusts. "My whole plan is to try to make it available for what I call the average pet owner Joe, or better said, the average pet parent."

So it was May 7 at the annual Furry Scurry to benefit the Denver Dumb Friends League, billed as the largest benefit pet walk in the country with some 10,000 participants. Cassinis operated one of the 125 or so vendor booths at Washington Park, passing out brochures and generating varying amounts of praise, curiosity and incredulity.

"One lady came up to me and said she'd been coming to the Furry Scurry for years, and this is the most valuable booth she'd ever seen," Cassinis says. "Conversely, someone came up as I was handing out some brochures, and I said, ‘Would you like some information on pet trusts?' He laughed out loud and he said, ‘Really? Pet trusts? I think I just peed myself.'"

Cassinis describes the basic pet trust as having three components consisting of the trust creator, the trustee and the caregiver.

"The very word ‘trust' means you're putting the money with a trustee who can oversee the caregiver," says Cassinis, who has a trust set up for her 5-year-old bulldog, Patch. "That way you can make sure the terms of your trust - the caregiver instructions - are followed. In other words, that person isn't getting their annual money to care for the animal unless the trust instructions are followed."

Cassinis, 31, graduated from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2005 and practiced aviation litigation before launching the Broomfield-based Cassinis Pet Trust Firm a little more than a year ago.

"I took an interest in estate planning back in law school when I had a course with a professor I really respected and admired," Cassinis says. "He had mentioned pet trusts, and I kind of tucked it away in the back of my mind. I ended up going into litigation for a few years, but I started reading more and more about pet trusts in various publications and thought, ‘Wow, this is really interesting and something I think could be really helpful to everyone, not just the rich and famous."

Cassinis wouldn't disclose the size of her business, other than to say, "I've had a variety of clients. It's a startup business. It is exciting, and it is growing."

So far, all her clients' pets have been dogs or cats, but she foresees representing other animals, such as parrots, which have been known to live into their 80s. Cassinis' "basic pet trust packet" goes for $250 and includes planning for one pet. A more deluxe package for $550 includes a pet trust, various powers of attorney and a couple hours of attorney time.

Cassinis says that as far as she knows, her firm is the only one on the Front Range that specializes in pet trusts, although she says other estate-planning attorneys also will do pet trusts.

"It really is a great way to make sure your animal is not going to end up in a shelter, and they're going to end up in an environment that they're used to," she says. "I mean, animals have emotions just like we do. If anything happens to you, they're going to grieve. So if they end up in a shelter and they're grieving, they may develop behavioral problems that make it harder to adopt them out to a family. So it's just really a great way to make sure they're taken care of."
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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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