Caring For Your Animals Through Pet Trusts
When we plan our estate, we often think of family members and friends, as we should. But have you thought about your pet? You may not even be aware that there is a way for you to take care of your pets in your estate plan through the creation of what is called a pet trust.
What is a Pet Trust?
A pet trust designates part of your estate for the sole purpose of caring for your beloved pet in the event your animal should outlive you. But to be legally valid, your pet trust must be worded correctly. Because pets aren’t people (under the law, even if they are in our hearts), it takes specially enacted laws to allow for pet trusts and for them to be legally enforceable. Thankfully, California has such laws in place.
Types of Trusts
You can leave money in a pet trust that comes into effect after you pass—this is called a testamentary trust. The money isn’t directly left to your cat—she wouldn’t know what to do with it—but rather, the money is left to an individual that is a designated caretaker for the animal (which can be, but doesn’t have to be, the trustee). The money is designed solely for the purpose of caring for your pet. Any money left over after the animal passes can be left to other, named beneficiaries.
You can also opt to set up a trust that takes effect while you are still alive. This is called an inter-vivos trust or living trust. You would be the trustee, and you would name a successor to take your place when you pass. You can also name a nonprofit organization to take your place.
The benefit of this strategy is that after you pass, the trust is already set up, funded, and existing, so it can avoid any delays caused by the probate process.
You can have an inter-vivos trust that gets “amended” when you pass. For example, the trust could say that when you pass, your car will be sold and the proceeds will go to fund the pet trust. You can even allow the designated pet caretaker to live in your home while your pets are still alive, providing a benefit to the caretaker, and to your animals.
You don’t even have to set up a pet trust at all. You can opt to just gift your pet to a caretaker, as well as providing an amount of money or other benefits to the caretaker, to be spent on the animal.
The animals that you want to care for should be specifically named in the trust. Pet trusts should avoid leaving property to “my pets.” Of course, as animals pass, and you get new ones, the trust or estate documents may need amending.
Take care of your pets, and the rest of your family. Call the Torrance estate planning attorneys at Samuel Ford Law for questions about caring for your loved ones when you are gone.