Even people who give a great deal of thought and time to their estate planning can neglect to ensure that their pets will be cared for after they die or become incapacitated. They get a “promise” from a family member or friend that they’ll give them a good home. However, animal shelters are filled with dogs and cats whose owners died or could no longer care for them.
Either no one took them or someone did but gave up on them when they bit or triggered allergies in a family member. Maybe they had more medical or behavioral issues than someone bargained for – and those were only exacerbated by losing their person.
California law allows pet trusts in estate plans, so why take any chances with the life and well-being of your pets?
The elements of a pet trust
A pet trust, as the name indicates, allows you to either set aside money now or designate that a certain amount of money from your estate go into a trust that will be used only to care for your pets. You’ll want to have enough in it to care for them for the rest of their natural lives. That includes vet bills, licensing, food and supplies. You may want to look at your average annual pet expenses to get some idea of how much should go in the trust.
Perhaps the most important element of planning for the care of your pets is choosing the right caregiver (and at least one alternate). You may have your chosen caregiver serve as the trustee of the pet trust or give the responsibilities to two different people to help ensure that your instructions are honored.
It’s crucial that the people you name are willing and able to take on the responsibility. If they change their minds after you’re gone, you should have instructions designating that a responsible person is to be chosen (or, at least, a rescue group you know and trust).
Each pet trust can be as unique as the person who sets it up. For example, people who plan to live (and adopt new animals) for many years to come typically have the trust apply to any pets they own at the time of their death or incapacitation rather than listing specific animals. With experienced legal guidance, you can have peace of mind that your animals will always have the care they need.