Pet Trusts

Don’t forget your pets when estate planning.
Don't forget your pets when estate planning.

We all love our pets. In the U.S., 71.4 million households have at least one bird, fish, reptile, cat, dog or bunny. But what happens to our pets after we’re gone?

Many of us estate plan because we want to protect of our children, to save on estate taxes, or to facilitate the transfer of assets to our beneficiaries, but sadly, we often forget about our pets.

Our pets are often considered a part of the family and we should include them in our estate plans. There are several options available for pet estate planning. You can read more about all of the pet planning options here. This will focus on, the Pet Trust, which is the tool that is usually best suited for most pet owners.

In short, a Pet Trust, is like other revocable trusts, but it is specially authorized by the California legislature and provides unique protections for your pet.

Legal History of Pet Estate Planning

In California, an outright gift to an animal is void. In 1968, a California court found that the testatrix’s dog, Roxy Russell, could not be a beneficiary of a will because Probate Code §7 (currently Prob C §6102), limited disposition of property to “any person.” Estate of Russell (1968) 69 C2d 200, 70 CR 561. The court held that the word “person” did not include a dog, and therefore the dog was not an eligible beneficiary. The court directed the distribution of Roxy’s share (half of the estate) to the decedent’s heirs at law. After the Russell case, it seemed that there was no way to ensure the proper care of a client’s companion animals upon death.

In 1991, the California made a step towards allowing pet owners a way to plan for their pets by enacting Prob C §15212, which permitted trusts for the care of “a designated domestic or pet animal” to be performed by the trustee. Prob. C§15212 was a step forward because it legally recognized pet trusts, but it lacked enforcement mechanism typical of other private trusts. Prob. Code §15212 did not allow a current beneficiary to take action against a trustee who failed to administer the trust.

Finally, in 2008, legislation signed by Governor Schwarzenegger addressed the shortcomings of the Prob. Code §15212. Effective January 1, 2009, former Prob C §15212 was repealed and replaced by a new version of Prob C §15212. Under the new §15212, certain requirements were set forth, but if these requirements were met, the terms of the Pet Trust could be enforced. Under the revised code, any beneficiary, any person designated by the trust instrument or court to enforce the trust, or any nonprofit charitable corporation that has as its principal activity the care of animals may, on reasonable request, inspect the animal, the premises where it is kept, and the books and records of the trust. Prob C §15212(f).

Advantages of a Pet Trust

For many pet owners, a trust generally provides the best option for the care of a beloved pet. The trust can provide a flexible method for managing financial assets for the benefit of a pet or pets until the pets pass away. After the pets pass, any remaining financial assets in the trust can be distributed according to the pet owners wishes, such as to other family members, animal protection agencies, charities, etc.

Another advantage of a trust is that the trust provisions can include very specific instructions for the care of the companion animals, which are unenforceable if you include them in a will. A will may also be problematic because probate takes time and assets might not reach the person you hope will take care of your pet until months or years later.

Pet owners have several options when considering the future of their pets. A Pet Trust may not be for every one, but if you feel that a Pet Trust is the right option for you and your beloved pet, we can draft California Pet Trust which meets your specific needs for you for $195.00, or include one as part of a comprehensive estate plan.

Contact us to see if a Pet Trust is right for you and your pet.

Image: CC licensed from John Talbot/Flickr]

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