By Darlynn Morgan, Newport Beach Pet Attorney

For many people, pets become an important part of the family. But they are often forgotten about when we start to make plans for our estate in the event of our passing.   Not only do we need to decide who should care for them, but we should also consider the cost involved in taking care of them. Of course, the cost of caring for a pet can be high and a financial hardship for even the most well-meaning pet owner.  Without proper planning, the fate of your beloved friend can be in jeopardy.

To make sure that your pet is cared for by the person you choose and in a way that you want, you need to include them in your estate plan.  If you don’t make a plan, there is no guarantee about what might happen to them.   This isn’t necessarily as simple as writing down who you would want to care for your pet in a homemade will either.  That may shed some light as to who you really wanted to have ownership but what about the financial burden of caring for your pet when you are not around?

Because pets are considered property you cannot leave money in their name. One way to ensure their care after your passing is to give a cash gift to the person you designate as caregiver.  This can be tricky, however, because there is no way to ensure the money will actually be used to provide for the pet. Furthermore, the money left to your caregiver is also subject to the claims of their creditors, which is a problem if the person you chose has outstanding financial obligations.

In my opinion as an Orange County pet attorney, a better option is to create a pet trust. As of 2007, thirty-eight states and the District of Colombia have passed laws allowing for the creation of pet trusts. The current laws allow for the required amount that is needed to provide for daily care, including the cost of food, treats, daycare, veterinary services, grooming, boarding, insurance and travel expenses. Even if your state does not allow for pet trusts you can still create a traditional trust that requires the third party to use the money you leave to care for the pet in the fashion you would like.

Most people are unaware, or simply don’t like to think about the issues that can occur with their pets in the event they are no longer able to care for them. But it is important to consider this when you are creating your estate plan.  With the proper estate plan, you can ensure that they receive the love and care they deserve in the event that something happens to you.