By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
Asbury Park is home to many creative residents, including artists, musicians and songwriters. It is also home to another type of creative person, one who is a pioneer in pet trusts.
Rachel Hirschfield, an attorney, will be teaching a course at New York University about creating legal trusts for pet owners that will provide financial support for their pets should they die or become incapacitated.
The course, entitled Pet Trusts: Saving Animal Companions from the Unexpected, will be taught at the NYU School of Professional Studies.
“I can hardly believe it, I created it. I am eager to take this on to pass along the legacy of loving pet companions and caring for them. It is my life’s work. ” she said.
Hirschfeld, who has lived in the city since moving from Manhattan in 2004, said before she worked to create protection for pets there were no pet protection agreements.
Her journey into the world of pet protection began after she went back to school to earn a law degree at the age of 53.
“I was the oldest student at the time,” she said.
She had adopted an older dog named Soupbone, whom she calls the love of her life. While walking to school one day Hirschfeld said she was almost run over by a car.
It was then, she says, that she said to herself, “What if something happens to me? What if I am hit by a car and have to be in the hospital for four or six months. What would happen to Soupbone?”
She says up until that time if people left trusts or directions for the care of their pets, the court would often invalidate them.
And any guidelines for pets were only mentioned in wills and were not valid for medical illness or rehabilitation.
“I broke new ground. So I created the laws. It needs to be good after I die and if I’m alive,” she said.
People and dogs are put in the pet protection agreement.
“It’s chock full of stuff, special needs trust, aging mother…I put it all in one basket,” she said.
She said the agreement has been used all over the world with animal law committees supporting her work. She also said the agreements are valid for all pets owned by her clients.
“I wrote myself out of making money because it’s good for any animal you have,” she said.
Hirschfeld said she knew nothing of Asbury Park before visiting in 2004.
“I fell in love with this town…I could live anywhere in the world,” she says.
In fact one of her rescue dogs, Sundance, was found on the streets of Asbury Park with a broken leg. The dog had been roaming around the city on the loose for months, but Hirschfeld said someone finally caught her and brought her to the pound.
Hirschfeld is a committed animal rights activist and was involved in a campaign to install a dog park in the city six years ago.
“As far as the dog park goes, I’m prepared to write the check, but it would be more inclusive and fun to get our friends and organizations involved once it gets approved. The full City Council hasn’t quite caught up to the people of Asbury Park when it comes to the love and concern they have for their animals; but I believe that will change and for the better,” she said.
She has had many famous clients over the years who seek her help in making sure their pets will be taken care of.
She recalled one who left $30 million to their pet, but said the average bequeathment is $25,000.
Hirschfeld said pet owners can only do the best they can when crafting and signing the agreement.
“Then you pray they will be honorable,” she said of executors and the courts.
She said many times heirs contest the agreement but have been unsuccessful.
“Family members comment and say ‘we’re not taking this, she was off the wall, this is a dog,’ ” Hirschfeld said. “Never, ever has it lost in court.”
Hirschfeld now lives in Wesley Grove, with her four small rescued dogs and one cat.
She calls all her dogs senior citizens with their ages being 19, 18, 15 and 8.
For more information about pet trusts or Hirschfeld’s book “PETRIARCH: The Complete Guide to Financial and Legal Planning for a Pet’s Continued Care” visit PetTrustLawyer.com.