For many of us, our pets are more than just animal companions; they are a member of the family. Whether it’s a traditional pet such as a dog, cat, or hamster, or something more unusual like a potbelly pig, horse, or parrot, the bond an owner shares with their animal friend can be strong. Although these pet relationships can be an essential part of daily life, they sometimes get overlooked in estate plans. Fortunately, in California, there is a legal way to include your animals in estate planning. Here is the best way to plan for your pets:
California law allows pet owners to set up a legal trust for the care and maintenance of their pets. Like all trusts, a California animal trust requires that the trust has a named trustee who is responsible for seeing that the trust terms are carried out. The trustee will use trust assets to pay for the named pet’s care and for any other purpose indicated in the trust document.
You can create a California pet trust by setting it up as a “testamentary trust,” or trust that becomes active when you die, or a “living trust,” a trust that is active during your lifetime. If you choose a testamentary trust, then the trustee would take on his or her responsibilities upon your death according to the trust document. With a living trust, you could be the trustee during your lifetime and have a successor trustee named for when you pass away. Your successor would take over immediately upon your death. You can choose a person or even a non-profit organization to serve in the trustee role.
You can include specific requirements in your pet trust, such as where your animal receives veterinary care, the brand of food he or she is fed, and how often they are groomed. One issue that can come up is what will happen with the trust funds when the animal is no longer alive. Animal trust can only be active when the animal is living. Consequently, you will need to include language regarding where residual funds will go when the pet dies. You may wish that anything remaining be donated to a favorite non-profit, the caregiver, or a relative.
Pet trusts can be an excellent way to ensure the animal you love is well cared for if something should happen to you. However, if you have a large estate and potentially contentious relatives, you may need to anticipate issues down the road. Additionally, California courts have the discretion to reduce the amount in an animal trust if there is reason to believe it is inappropriate. In order to prepare for these and other issues, it’s vital that you consult with an experienced California estate planning attorney when setting up your pet trust.
When preparing any estate planning documents, it is important to have the advice of an experienced attorney. At the Law Office of Alice Salvo, we have the experience you need to plan for your pet and all other aspects of your estate. Schedule a consultation today with a call to our office at 818-676-9572.