Even people who develop a thorough estate plan sometimes fail to include their pets. This doesn’t mean leaving them millions of dollars like hotel magnate Leona Helmsley did. It simply means ensuring that they’ll be well cared for after you’re gone (or if you become incapacitated).
Why do people fail to plan for their beloved pets? Most often, it’s because they make assumptions. They assume they’ll outlive them or that a family member or friend will take them. Visit any animal shelter to find animals who were the unwitting victims of these assumptions.
Even family members who take in a pet orphan sometimes can’t continue to care for them because of a family member’s allergies or a serious behavioral issue that develops. People often don’t realize that pets go through their own grieving process when they lose their person.
What is included in a pet trust?
All states, including California, have laws regarding pet trusts. Your pet trust allows you to designate that a specified amount of money will be used to care for your pet(s). To determine how much to designate, look at the average amount you spend on each pet per year. You should also plan for unexpected medical expenses and continued premiums on your pet insurance if you have it.
You’ll also designate a caregiver for your animals (and a minimum of one alternate). Typically, they’re the ones who are also designated as the trustee for the pet trust. However, you may choose to put that in the hands of someone else who can help ensure that your pet is being cared for responsibly.
Planning for animals you don’t have yet
Unless you’re certain that the animal(s) you have now will be your last, it’s best not to specify the pets by name. You can simply state that the trust applies to any animals who are licensed to you or for whom you’re the primary caregiver (unless you’re fostering them for a rescue organization) when you pass away or become incapacitated.
These trusts are set up to terminate when the last surviving animal passes away. You’ll need to designate what happens to any remaining funds.
Pet trusts are unique to the people who set them up and what they want for their animals. With experienced legal guidance, you can feel secure that your pets will be well cared for when you’re gone.