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Is it possible to estate plan for my pets?

Yes! The first thing that most people consider when estate planning, is their children, but we often forget our pets, even though most of us feel that our pets are part of the family.

Planning for your pets is an important aspect of estate planning. According to the ASPCA, approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). Sadly, some of these pets are put into shelters because their owners pass away without an estate plan that includes provisions specifically crafted for the care of their pets.

What types of estate planning tools are available?

In California, there are several techniques/tools available to pet owners who want their estate plans to include provisions for their pets. For most people, the Pet Trust will is the most appropriate tool because it offers a good combination of flexibility and enforcement procedures. However, each of the estate planning tools has its benefits and drawbacks, so discussing your specific situation with an attorney will give you the best results.

Here is some general information about the different tools.

Technique: Rely of Family Members/Friends

Overview: you simply ask or assume that your friends or family members will take care of your pet.

Benefits: No set up costs, so it is simple and cheap. All you do is inform your family/friends that they should take care of your pet if you die.

Problems: The discussions are not in writing, so your family/friends may forget their responsibilities. They may decide that taking care of your pet is too difficult, too expensive or too bothersome and can stop taking care of your pet at any time. Without some sort of will, living trust, insurance, or pay on death account, you will not be able to transfer money to the pet guardian for the maintenance and support of your pet.

Technique: Will

Overview: You include a provision in your will, giving your pet to family/friends and include a provision leaving a sum of money for the care and support of your pet.

Benefits: With a will, you can leave your pet to a loved one. You can also give the pet guardian a sum of money that can possibly be used for the care of your beloved pet.

Problem #1: Your Will allows you to leave money to the pet guardian, but it cannot be used to enforce how the money is used. The pet guardian can take the money and drop your pet off at a shelter.

Problem #2: Wills need to go through probate court, so it may take several months to a year before your pet and money for his/her care is given to the beneficiary. In the meanwhile, your pet may have no one to watch over him/her.

Problem #3: Wills cannot be used to leave enforceable instructions to the beneficiaries. Though you may have specific wishes on how your pet is taken care of, the pet guardian does not have to abide by them.

Problem #4: Wills only take effect after your death, so if you become incapacitated, a Will does not give anyone authority to take care of your pet during your incapacity.

Technique: A Pet Trust

Overview: A Pet Trust is a specific type of trust specifically authorized in California. Cal. Prob. Code §15212. Like other trusts, you give property to the trust, with specific instructions on how the trustee is to handle the property. After you die (or earlier if you choose), the trustee follows your instructions. A Pet Trust is special because it is specifically created for pets and its terms are fully enforceable by any trustee, beneficiary of the trust, person interested in the animal’s welfare, or nonprofit animal welfare organization.

Benefit #1: A will only goes into effect upon your death, but a Pet Trust can take effect upon your death, or if you become incapacitated, ensuring that your pet is taken care of in almost any emergency.

Benefit #2: A Pet Trust is also beneficial because you can include enforceable instructions on how your pet is to be cared for by your pet guardian/trustee.

Benefit #3: A Pet Trust The money you put into the trust for your pets, must be used by the pet guardian/trustee for your stated purpose.

Problem: A Pet Trust takes time and planning. You will need to think of who would be appropriate to take care of your pet, set aside some money, and a list of instructions for your pet guardian to follow.

Technique: Pet Agreements/Contracts

Overview: These are do-it-yourself documents which incorporate some of the elements of a Pet Trust, a Will, a Power of Attorney and a standard contract.

Benefit: These agreements are do it yourself, so you do not discuss your situation with an attorney. As it is an agreement between yourself and a pet guardian, these agreements may allow you to set aside money and instructions for the care of your pet.

Problem #1: Like most do-it yourself legal agreements, they may not meet your specific needs or desires or achieve the intended results.

Problem #2: The agreements are based on the laws of contract and power of attorney, but may not be governed by the specific California pet trust statutes.

Speak with an attorney about planning for your pet today.