Not too long ago, a person who decided to leave an inheritance behind for their pet might be considered eccentric, to say the least. Take, for example, the case of Leona Helmsley: when she died in 2007, she left her dog Trouble an inheritance worth $12 million. While there may have been other factors weighing in on her decision (such as sending a message to her grandchildren), Helmsley’s wishes for making sure her pet was cared for after she was gone are echoed by pet owners across the country.  As  Newport Beach pet trust lawyer, I have seen how important it is to my clients to plan for the protection of their pets after they’re gone.

Orange County estate planning attorneys want their clients to be clear on what happens when they leave money to their dog or cat (or turtle or bird) through the use of a pet trust, such as who handles the money, how much money should be put into the pet trust, and how detailed one can make a pet trust.

Who handles the money in a pet trust?

Just like any other trust, the pet owner names a trustee to handle the money that is left for the care of the pet. The Trustee is not always the primary caregiver of the pet – in fact, it is sometimes better to avoid that conflict of interest. By meeting with a Newport Beach pet trust lawyer, pet owners can best determine what their options are for naming a trustee of the pet trust and choosing a person who will take care of the pet once they are gone.

How much money should be put into trust for a pet?

The amount of money to leave behind in a pet trust really depends on the pet’s age, condition, and the type of pet. Money should be set aside for day-to-day living costs, medical expenses, grooming, and any kind of special care. But be warned: many pet trusts have been challenged in court by family members who are unhappy that a pet got an inheritance and they didn’t. Judges have been known to reduce amounts left to pets if they believe that amount is unreasonable.

How detailed can a pet trust be?

Newport Beach pet trust lawyers typically see very detailed instructions that are placed within a pet trust that cover how money should be spent and how the pet should be cared for. This can include specific veterinarians the pets can see, when and what the pet should eat, what to do with if the caretaker is traveling and cannot take the pet with them, and what specific toys can be bought for the pet. Trustees and caregivers should go to great pains in following these instructions since they often receive stipends and fees for taking care of the pets – as long as the instructions are followed dutifully.

If you are interested in learning more about pet trusts, or would like to set up a trust for your pets, please contact us at (949) 260-1400 to schedule a consultation.