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Estate Planning for Pet Owners

For many of us, estate planning for our family might also include ensuring future care for our furry family members.  At first, this might seem a little odd to include your cat or dog in a trust or will, but its both legal and common!  

Because April 11th is National Pet Day, I thought this would be the perfect time to explain how you can provide for the care and well-being of your pets in your estate plan.  There are a few options available for you to include your pet as an heir.

California Pet Trust

California is one of a handful of states that has “pet trusts” in the probate code, which can ensure lifelong care for your pet.  You would have to fund the trust with enough money to cover both immediate needs (food, shelter) and long-term needs (veterinary care, medication).  Like any trust, you will need to designate a trustee, and ideally one who would personally care for the pet.  The trustee must understand and agree to the commitment, so it’s recommended that you discuss your wishes with your intended trustee beforehand.

Pet Guardian

A simpler method is to name a pet guardian in your will or trust, with funds allocated for care of your pet.  This is not as airtight as a pet trust, because you can name a guardian without their consent or knowledge.  They may or may not be willing to take on the role, so if they don’t, they would then have to look for a replacement guardian.  An additional problem is the use of funds, since your pet (obviously) won’t be able to control how the money is spent by the guardian.  These are several of the reasons that pet trusts were codified in California, to give you a more certain method for pet care.

What about the other heirs to your estate?

If you have a pet trust, your intentions are made clear, making your other heirs much less likely to dispute your wishes.  Keep in mind that naming a pet in a will can be more problematic if the amounts seem excessive. There are several examples of pet owners leaving the majority of their estate to their pet, much to the chagrin of the human heirs.

It’s a good idea to discuss the care of your pets with the heirs to your estate, so they know it’s a priority for you and what to expect.  One of your heirs may indeed be the trustee or guardian of your pet, so this is your chance to see how willing they are to continue giving your pet the same loving care that you always have.

If you have questions about your pets and estate planning, give my team a call at 951-499-4057. We are here to help you plan today so that your loved ones (furry family members included) are protected and cared for when you’re gone.

Written by Andrea Shoup

Shoup Legal, A Professional Law Corporation can be reached at (951) 445-4114.

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