As a Newport Beach pet attorney, I know how easily a pet can become a beloved and cherished member of the family.  Based on this fact, it’s no wonder why many people are now choosing to make provisions in their estate plans to ensure their pets are cared for should death or incapacity suddenly occur.

I meet with many clients on a day-to-day basis who are absolutely horrified at the thought of their pet being bounced from home to home or even euthanized if something unexpectedly happens to them.  And sadly, that is what WILL happen if you do not legally spell out who should care for your pets in your absence.

Fortunately, there are a number of tools pet lovers can employ to make sure their pet is adequately cared for if something happens.  Traditionally, a bequest was used to financially provide for pets, but today, setting up a pet trust is hands down a better choice.  Let’s discuss the reasons why.

Trust Versus Bequest

Historically, people wishing to provide for their pets could leave a specific bequest of money outright to a named individual, with specific instructions to provide for the pet’s care.

Administration, however, was based on the honor system, and the pet owner could only hope that the designated caregiver would in fact use the money for the benefit of the pet, rather than spending it elsewhere. There is also the possibility of caretakers themselves losing the money altogether through a bankruptcy, divorce or other creditor problems.

If the specific bequest was done in a will, there are additional drawbacks: A will takes effect only on death, so a beloved pet could still be left in the lurch if temporary or long-term incapacity occurred. Further, a will usually is not probated or formally recognized by a court for weeks, or even months, after a person’s death.  That means a long time could pass before your instructions regarding your pets’ care are implemented.

Pet Trusts

Based on the limitations discussed above, as a Newport Beach pet attorney, I believe a pet trust is the best tool in providing for your companions once you are gone. It offers the most seamless method for ensuring that your pet is taken care of under all possible circumstances and according to your stated wishes.

California Probate Code Section 15212 provides statutory authority for a pet trust. If you have pets and wish to provide for them after your death, you simply place assets in a legal pet trust for their benefit after you are gone or incapacitated. The trust may provide for the care of individually named animals or for a class of animals, so long as the animal is living at the time of your death.

In designing your pet trust, I would advise you to appoint a trustee and an alternate to manage and administer the trust. You also want to provide the trustee with clear, comprehensive guidelines and instructions, including where your pet’s health records are located, what type of care you wish to provide, limits, restrictions, your pet’s likes and dislikes, personality, habits and routines and so forth.

Many of my clients further appoint a pet caregiver who will be responsible for the care of the animals. Some clients also appoint a trust advisory panel to make major decisions such as caregiver compensation, adoption and euthanasia.

Finally, you want to make sure the pet is properly identified in the trust. There is the famous legend of the cat who never died. A pet owner left a beloved black cat to the maid, to be taken care of for its lifetime, with monetary distributions to the maid. Because of the outright distribution, there was no oversight by a trustee; the maid was on the third black cat before the remainder beneficiaries got wise and learned that the original cat had long since died.

Getting Help With Your Orange County Pet Trust

If you ultimately decide a pet trust is the right tool to protect your cherished companion should something unexpectedly happen to you, I invite you to call me, your Newport Beach pet attorney, to set   up a complimentary planning session.  In this session we will discuss the legal needs of your family, in addition to those of your pets.  I will then help you craft a rock-solid plan to help ensure your entire family stays protected should death or incapacity occur.

Remember, your pet is totally dependent on you to make sure they are properly cared for during the remainder of their lifetime.    Therefore, I encourage you to do what it takes to make sure they stay protected….no matter what!