Estate Planning for Pets: Establishing Trusts for Furry Friends

Estate Planning for Pets: Establishing Trusts for Furry Friends

Pet ownership comes with great rewards and responsibilities.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet ownership can provide many health benefits.  Research has shown that pet ownership can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and can also decrease or eliminate feelings of loneliness.  It is estimated that in California more than 50% of households include pet ownership.  Because of this, many pet owners wonder how to protect and provide for their pets after they have died.

California law (Probate Code §15212) allows pet owners to establish trusts for the benefit of their pets.  These trusts allow for funds to be set aside and used for the care and maintenance of any pets living at the time of the owner’s death.  The trust can provide for the care and maintenance of the owner’s pets, and also provides for establishment of a “watchdog” to make sure the pet is being properly cared for and that the money is being spent appropriately.

A pet trust can be a separate trust, or can be included as a provision within a person’s revocable living trust.  The funds held in trust cannot be used for any other purpose other than for the benefit of the animal.  The trust should also include provisions for distribution after the death of the pet.  The trust terminates when no animal living on the date of the owner’s death remains alive.

An important feature of pet trusts is the ability of the pet owner to designate someone to be the “watchdog” to make sure that the trust’s purpose of benefiting the pet is being handled appropriately by the trustee.  In general, beneficiaries of trusts have rights and remedies that protect their interest in a trust, such as the right to receive an accounting of the trust and the right to petition the court for relief if a trustee commits a breach of trust.  Since pets cannot speak for themselves or petition the court if something has gone wrong, the trust should designate a person that is given the right to demand an accounting or petition the court, if necessary.  This person also has the right to inspect the animal and the premises where the animal is kept, and also has the right to inspect the books and records of the trust.

In addition, the law provides that any nonprofit charitable corporation that has as its principal activity the care of animals can also assert the pet’s rights in the same way as the trust “watchdog.”

California pet owners who want to provide for their pets after the owner has died should talk to a qualified estate planning attorney.  Careful planning can make sure that beloved pets can continue to be cared for and protected.

Mark Flory

Mark Flory

Mark Flory is Special Counsel with Brown White & Osborn LLP. His practice focuses in the areas of probate and trust administration and litigation, estate planning, conservatorships, and protecting elders and individuals with disabilities.
Mark Flory