Pet Trusts – Providing for Your Pets in Your Estate Plan

What will happen to your beloved dog, cat, bird, horse or other pet if you die or become incapacitated? Unless specific written provisions are made, many pets end up being displaced and even euthanized when their owners die or are no longer able to care for them. California Probate Code Section 15212 provides for the creation of a trust for the care of a pet so that you can not only designate a guardian to care for your pets, but you can also leave money specifically designated for their care.

Prior to passage of this law, which went into effect in January 2009, pet trusts were honorary, meaning they were not enforceable by law. But now, pet trusts are treated like any other trust, as a binding legal documents tied to a sum of money set aside in an account with a trustee to manage the account for the benefit of the animals.

Is a pet trust for you? It depends. Some clients prefer the more informal approach of leaving pets to a family member or friend and trusting that that person will properly care for the pets. Other clients, by contrast, are concerned that a particular caregiver might not make good on their promise to care for the pets or that they might not have the financial means to provide that care. In such a case, a pet trust is often advisable.

The benefits of a pet trust extend beyond ensuring that pets are cared for if you die; they also provide for your pets during your lifetime if you are incapacitated. Moreover, a pet trust can be enforced not only by the named trustee or guardian of your pet, but even by “any person interested in the welfare of the animal or any nonprofit charitable organization that has as its principal activity the care of animals.”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (see here) suggests that you include instructions in your pet trust for how trust funds are to be used (food, veterinary care, pet sitters, grooming, etc.) as well as plans for interim care until long-term placement is completed. The article also suggests including a complete medical record of your pets, feeding instructions, a list of favorite toys, even names of friends – both human and animal. For those unsure how much to leave for the care of their pets, the article discusses a recent survey by the American Pete Products Association, which concludes that a dog requires, on average, about $1,400 a year for its care, while a cat requires about $1,000 a year. You can expect dogs and cats to live at least 13 years.

Whether you end up creating a formal pet trust for your pets or decide on the more informal approach of designating a person to serve as “caregiver,” don’t forget to include your beloved pets in your estate plan!