Ensuring the Care of Your Pet

Whether or not you have done your Estate Planning, you most likely have considered who will inherit your material assets.  If you have minor children, you hopefully created a legal plan nominating both immediate and permanent guardians for your children in the case of incapacity or death as discussed in my last blog.  An additional component of any comprehensive Estate Plan is to plan for the care and welfare of your pets.

Approximately 60% of U.S. households have at least one pet.  20% of households have five or more pets.  If you own a pet, you are aware of the companionship, unconditional love, and general happiness pets provide.  But have you ever considered what will happen to your pet if you become incapacitated or pass away?

The most basic Pet Planning option is to create a provision in your Will or Trust that gives your pet to a family member or a friend who is willing to care for your pet when you are no longer able to do so.  However, it is not always possible to find somebody who is willing to take over the responsibility for your pet.

A second option is to create a provision in your Will or Trust that leaves your pet to the custody of an animal care organization.  Many animal care organizations are willing to put your pet into a foster home until a permanent home can be established.  Most animal care organizations request a cash gift in a specific dollar amount to cover expenses in order to undergo this task. 

If you want more control over how your pet will be cared for, you can establish a "Pet Trust."  A "Pet Trust" sets aside a certain amount of money out of your Estate that is dedicated to the care and welfare of your pet.  The "Pet Trust" would name a Trustee to handle the amount of money set aside for the pet and would also either name a pet caregiver or instruct the Trustee to find a suitable caregiver.  Effective January 1, 2009, major changes were made to California "Pet Trust" law.  Among these changes are the ability of "any interested party" to ask the Court to enforce the terms of a "Pet Trust," the creation of a legal system of checks and balances to make sure the Trustee and caregiver are in fact taking care of the pet, and the establishment of a large role for animal care organizations to play in the enforcement of "Pet Trusts."

Other practical issues to consider are how much money should be set aside for the care of your pet and what specific instructions you want to provide to your Trustee or caregiver with regard to the care of your pet.  Part of any comprehensive plan would also include a mechanism for notifying your loved ones of your Pet Plan and a method for providing immediate access to your pet and to information critical to the care of your pet such as the name of your veterinarian, any medications your pet takes, and any special dietary issues.

 A qualified Estate Planning attorney can discuss the pros and cons of each option relative to your specific circumstances to ensure that your pet will be in good hands long after you are no longer to give the love and attention to which your pet has become accustomed and deserves.