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Estate Planning For Pets

Mary wanted to leave some money for her golden retriever, Sunny, after she passed away. She asked me if she could just put a clause in her trust leaving a gift to Sunny. I told her that if she did that, the gift would fail because an animal cannot be the direct recipient of a gift and Sunny would not be able to stand up in court to make sure he got his money. Fortunately though, there is a legal means to leave a gift for a pet and I was able to help her as this article will explain.

Many pet owners want to provide for their pet’s care after they pass on, but most people do not know the legal requirements to do so. If a pet owner is unsure whether their pets will be taken care of after they are gone, there are two means by which a pet owner can make sure that their pet will be provided for after their death.

In California, pet owners can establish a trust with the beneficiary being a pet or a trust can be established with a pet caretaker as the beneficiary under the condition that the caretaker/beneficiary provide the pet with specific care for the remainder of its life. To provide for their pets in this way, the owner must make sure that their will or trust is written to include provisions that establish a trust for their pet. The pet’s trust does not need to go into effect until the owner’s death.

To effectively establish a trust for a pet, the terms of the owner’s will or trust must designate that upon their death, the pet and assets to care for the pet are to be distributed to the trustee of the trust and to be held in trust for the life of the pet.

The important issues to consider when drafting a trust for the care of the pet are as follows:

1. Who will be the pet’s caretaker?
The person should be able and willing to take on the responsibility of the pet(s)’ care taking into consideration the pet’s energy level and other needs.

2. Who will be the trustee or the person in charge of the monetary gift left for the care of the pet?

Again, it is important to determine whether the person has the time and desire to act as trustee. The trustee should also be willing to act as sort of a “grandparent” figure to the animal; looking in on it from time to time to make sure it is receiving proper care.

3. How much money to leave for the care of the pet.
The owner must consider the costs for care for the pet considering the type of animal, life expectancy, medical needs, and standard of care.