Not all pet owners are the same. Some just have an animal living inside of, or very near their home. Then there are pet owners who treat their animal buddy like a human member of the family.
People with dependents (e.g., minor children, disabled children, spouse) oftentimes plan to provide for their dependents in the event of their death through life insurance, a will, or living trust. As the guardian of an animal friend, have you taken into consideration that your pet may outlive you and if that happens – what then?
If the worst-case scenario were to happen and you became incapacitated or died, it is recommended that you have in place proper arrangements for the care of your pet. Early preparation will help avoid the risk of having them placed in a shelter or worse.
According to many animal rights advocates, having a plan for the care of your beloved pet should be an important part of your estate plan. Even if they are not legally recognized as such, pets are dependents and best practices suggest that pet owners avoid the assumption that family or friends will step in to care for their animal loved one when they are gone.
California law designates pets as property and due to this label, pets are unable to inherit money directly. Through a pet trust, a pet owner can designate a trustee and a caretaker to use bequeathed funds to care for a pet or several named animals for the duration of their life-span.
Under trust law, a pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement which spells out the rules that one wants followed for property held in a trust for their beneficiaries. Translation: the pet trust ensures a smooth transition and clear direction as to how and by whom, their animal companion will be taken care of.
A pet trust differs from a will in that it goes beyond just stating your wishes. A pet trust is more detailed and outlines specific care instructions regarding regular feeding and treats, recreation/toys, housing and bedding, license, health insurance, grooming and pest control, ongoing medical or routine veterinary care (e.g. annual check-ups, dental cleanings, immunizations), and the named person or persons responsible, including an enforcement component.
In 2009 California moved to make pet trust law consistent with other state trust law by requiring trustees to carry out trust instructions regarding pets, and by incorporating oversight to guarantee execution.
With a pet trust, there are several moving parts:
- Settlor: Person giving the trust (pet’s human)
- Beneficiary: Party the trust is designated for (human’s pet)
- Trustee: Person responsible for handling and overseeing the trust
- Caretaker: The person who will care for the beneficiary in the settlor’s absence (pet’s new human)
- Enforcer: The person who makes sure the money is used properly
Moreover, the settlor (pet owner) must take into consideration the appropriate amount of money to leave and for how long. Depending on the pet’s species, health, age, and size, the average annual costs of pet ownership will vary significantly. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a financial breakdown of the annual costs for caring for a variety of domestic pets.
Deciding to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet is a lifelong commitment. The Department of Consumer Affairs’ Veterinary Medical Board licenses veterinarians in California. To verify a license click here. For more information about California pet trust law in your county, consult with a trust attorney.