Including Your Pet in Your California Estate Plan

How can I ensure my pet is cared for after my death?

Pets are part of the family for many Americans across the country.  About 85 million families, or 68 percent of U.S. households, have a dog, cat, or another type of pet.  Despite the high levels of pet ownership, few pet owners have included their pet within their estate plan.  Historically, pets have been deemed property and, as such, are not entitled to receive property through probate or trust.  However, recognizing that many pet owners desire to protect their pets after their death, the California legislation altered the probate code to allow for trusts dedicated to pets.

Trusts for Pets

California enacted Probate Code Section 15211 and 15212 in 1991.  These sections allow for the creation of trusts intended for the care of domestic animals.  Per Probate Code Section 15211, a trust can be designed for the care of a pet to be performed by the trustee for 21 years.  Probate Code Section 15212 provides for the creation of a trust for the care of a pet for the life of the animal. Accordingly, California pet owners can use these provisions to protect their treasured pet.
Your journey to create an estate plan that assists your pet will begin with calculating the resources that will be needed to care for your pet for the duration of the pet’s lifetime.  You will want to take into consideration the type of animal, its age and life expectancy, food expenses, boarding costs, and veterinary care.
You will then need to choose a person to care for the pet.  You will want to identify a caretaker who is willing and able to care for the pet as you do.  You will need the caretaker’s consent to take in your pet before naming him or her in the trust. You should further consider naming one or more alternate caretakers, in the event your selected caretaker cannot perform the necessary duties.
With these decisions made, you will then want to meet with your estate planning lawyer to determine if creating a trust in support of your pet is the best estate planning method.  This trust can potentially be created as a part of your revocable living trust. Contact an estate planning lawyer to get started.

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.