Pets and Estate Planning

When you consider estate planning, you likely think about your property and your close family members, such as your spouse or your children. But what about another important member of the family – your pet? What will happen to your beloved dog, cat, or bird if something happens to you? California is a state that provides legal tools to plan ahead to make sure that your pet has proper care once you cannot care for them.

Guardianship of Your Pet

One way to ensure that your pet is cared for is to designate someone to serve as your pet’s guardian should you pass away. You can do this as a provision in your last will and testament. You can also leave assets and property for your pet in your will, so the guardian has sufficient funds to dedicate to the care of your pet, including food, grooming, and vet bills. Know, however, that if you do this through a will provision, you will not be able to control how the pet guardian uses that money after you pass away.

Creating a Pet Trust

If you want to have more control over how your assets are spent for your pet’s benefit, you have other options. This is because, since 1991, the California Probate Code has allowed pet owners to set up special trusts for the benefit of their pets, as follows:

  • Under Probate Code Section 15211, you can establish a valid trust to make sure that your pet has the nourishment and care they need for a maximum of 21 years.
  • Under Probate Code Section 15212, you can create a trust that provides care for your pet for its lifetime.

When creating your trust instructions, you should consider whether your pet has any complex needs, how much the care for your pet will cost, the possibility of emergency vet expenses, and more.

The trustee you select for the trust will oversee implementing your instructions for your pet. Caring for a special pet takes more than simply putting out food each day and giving them shelter. Instead, you want your pet to continue to receive the same level of care it did while you were living.

When you choose a trustee, you want to make sure it is someone who agrees to take your pet and who is willing to care for your pet as you would want. They should have the time, means, and dedication to take your pet into their home. They should also be able to assume the responsibility on short notice in case something happens to you unexpectedly. This individual must consent to the responsibility, and you should always have a clear discussion with them first to ensure they understand what will be expected of them. In some cases, you might need to name a backup trustee in case the initial one is unable to take care of your pet when the time comes.

If you have a pet, you want to discuss protecting them with an experienced estate planning attorney.

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