If you are a pet owner, there is a good chance you consider your cat, dog, or bird a member of your immediate family. However, many people—even the most responsible and loving pet owners—do not think to include their pets in an estate plan. Nevertheless, your pet is dependent on you from the day it arrives in your home until the day one of you passes away. And although most pets have a shorter lifespan than humans, it’s possible for a pet to outlive its owner for any number of reasons. Since California does provide legal ways to ensure your pet is taken care of if you die, it is important to understand how you can provide your pet the protection they deserve.
A simple way to provide for your pet’s needs if you die is to name a guardian in your will. When you name a guardian, you are essentially designating an individual to begin caring for your pet in case anything happens to you. However, you may want to go further than simply naming a guardian. Even if your designated caretaker wants the best for your pet, they may lack the time or financial means to provide for it the same way you would.
While you may be inclined to set aside money in your will for your pet, this presents a problem: since your pet cannot make decisions for itself, you will not be able to control how that money is spent after your death.
California is one of several states that has a Probate Code able to accommodate pets in estate planning. For a very long time, California considered pets personal property, irrespective of their owners’ feeling. But in 1991, California enacted two additions to its Probate Code: Sections 15211 and 15212. Both sections allow pet owners to create special trusts for their pets:
- Probate Code Section 15211 allows Californians to establish a trust designed to ensure a pet receives proper care and nourishment for up to 21 years
- Probate Code 15212 permits the creation of a trust that will offer lifelong care to an animal
What to Think About When Establishing a Pet Trust
When you are creating a comprehensive estate plan that includes a pet’s well-being, you need to think not just about your pet’s immediate needs, but the long-term demands associated with care, too.
For instance, you may want to talk with an estate planning attorney about:
- The type of animal for which you are establishing a trust and if it has any complex or species-specific needs
- Your pet’s age and expected life span
- The costs associated with feeding, accommodating, and properly caring for your pet
- Emergency expenses for veterinary care, surgery, and medication, if and when it is ever needed
Choosing a Trustee
As any pet owner knows, there is more to care than simply feeding and housing an animal. After all, if you think of your pet as a beloved member of your family, you will want it to receive the same love as it did when you were alive.
Pet trusts—like other types of trusts—require that you designate a trustee who fill fulfill your wishes after your death. Ideally, a pet trustee should have all or most of the following traits:
- They should be someone who has the means, time, and motivation to care for your pet as you would
- They should able to assume the role of trustee on relatively short notice
California law requires that a pet trustee consent to any caretaking arrangement. Before designating a caretaker, you should have an in-depth conversation with your prospective trustee about your expectations and theirs.
You may want to consider naming more than one person to the post, in case something happens to another prospective trustee.
Do You Need to Speak With an Attorney About Estate Planning?
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