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updated: 2/17/2011 8:51 AM

About real estate: Pet burial laws vary

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Some cities and counties have ordinances that prohibit owners from burying a dearly departed pet in a home's back yard.

Q. You have written a lot about issues regarding homeowners and their pets recently. Our dog, Fury, is 16 years old and is in bad physical shape. When he passes away, would it be legal for us to bury him in our backyard?

A. It depends on where you live. Some communities have laws that specifically ban the burial of pets on a homeowner's private property, in part because bacteria from the pet's eventual decay can seep into local water or sewer lines and cause public health hazards. Call the local village or city office or a county supervisor for details about the policy in your particular area.

I'm sorry that your dog isn't doing well. But I'm sure you will always cherish his faithful companionship, regardless of where he is eventually laid to rest.

One way to honor your beloved pet would be to adopt, either temporarily or permanently, another dog or cat from a military serviceman or servicewoman who is about to be sent overseas. Military personnel and National Guard members often have a problem arranging for the care of their pets when they are called up to active duty: Many of those dogs and cats are then left at the local animal shelter for an uncertain fate.

There are a handful of groups that operate programs for folks who are willing to adopt or temporarily foster a servicemember's pet. One is the "Military Pets Foster Project" (www.netpets.org), which seeks homes for dogs or even horses while their owners are away. Another is Operation Noble Foster (www.operationnoblefoster.org), though the organization's focus is finding a place for cats rather than other types of animals.

My sweetheart and I would gladly take one of these pets, but we already have our hands full with three: Sadie, the Papillion; Rusty, a 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier; and Peanut, a Dachshund puppy who was left on our doorstep apparently because Satan wouldn't take her.

Q. I spent my three-week vacation last year by helping to build a home for a needy family through Habitat for Humanity. Can I take a deduction for the time I spent because the group is a certified nonprofit?

A. Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org), which has built or remodeled more than 400,000 homes for low-income or "working poor" families across the U.S., is one of my favorite charities. It's volunteers like you who are the backbone of the organization.

Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service does not permit deductions for the value of either the time or labor that a taxpayer donates to a charity. You can, however, deduct the cost of any materials that you gave to the group and also claim 14 cents for each mile you drove as part of your generous volunteer efforts.

For more information, get a free copy of IRS Publication No. 526, Charitable Contributions, by calling the agency toll-free at (800) 829-3676 or by downloading it from www.irs.gov.

Q. I am 58 years old and recently married a woman who is 55. Both of us have grown children from previous marriages. I read your booklet about living trusts and found it very helpful, so I called my estate planner and he said we should consider a "qualified terminable interest property trust." Is this the same thing as the basic living trust that you wrote about before?

A. Close, but not quite.

A basic living trust typically involves spouses who want their own children or other heirs to inherit their property quickly rather than suffer through the long and costly probate process that could take months or years for a judge to solve.

A qualified terminable interest property trust -- commonly called a QTIP -- often is used by remarried spouses who want to take financial care of each other while they're both alive but ensure that their property goes to their respective children after one of them dies.

To illustrate, say that you purchase a rental property in the time between the divorce of your first wife and the marriage to your second. If you pass away before your new spouse does, the law in most states would automatically award the property to her -- and then to her own grown children (not yours) after she dies.

If you instead create a QTIP, you could specify that your spouse would receive all the income from the rental after you die but that the property would go to your own children from the previous marriage when your current wife passes away later.

In addition to remarried homeowners, QTIPs are also commonly used by those with a family-owned business who want to ensure that their firm or company will pass directly to their grown children rather than forcing a court battle between one side of the remarried couple's offspring and the other's.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 2960, Culver City, CA 90231-2960.

2011, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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