You love your pet. Sam, Jake, Bella and Lily are family members. You want them to be safe and happy but what will happen to them if something happens to you? What should you do now to protect them? The answer is a legal document called a pet trust.
In it you name a caregiver and provide that person with the resources necessary to ensure your pet receives the same care and love you provided. Want more information? Here in a question and answer format, is the information you need. It will take a few minutes to review --maybe you should get a cup of coffee--but the time will pass more quickly if your pet keeps you company.
Q. What is a pet trust?
It is a legally enforceable document whose purpose is to insure that your pet receives the sort of care you would have provided had you not died or become disabled.
Q. How does it work?
You name one or more persons to act as a trustee and that person who will use the money or property you put in the trust for your pet's benefit. The caregiver you have chosen will care for your pet and those expenses will be paid by the trustee. The trustee will check periodically on your pet to make sure your pet or pets are receiving the level of care specified in the trust instrument.
Q. What are the main types of pet trusts?
There are two basic types.
A testamentary trust takes effect on your death. It is created during your lifetime with the assistance of experts and is found in your Will. Like the statutory pet trust desribed below, it details your pet's likes, dislikes, routines,medical history and anything else you believe a caregiver must know to give your pet the same quality of life you provided. The trustee pays for your pet or pets' expenses and the caregiver you named continues in that capacity so long as he or she properly cares for your pet.
A statutory pet trust, is also created during your lifetime. It is called a statutory pet trust because it is expressly sanctioned by California Probate Code Section 15212. It gives the court broad powers to manage and enforce the trust Any beneficiary named in the trust or any person, including organizations like the SPCA, may bring any irregularities in the implementation of the trust to the attention of the court which has to make all orders it deees advisable to carry out the intent of the person who created the trust.ngs to furthter the interests of the trust. . . . ."
Q. Which type of trust is best?
Most pet owners choose a statutory trust in which they act as the original trustees with others named as successor trustees. The trust instrument can anticipate and deal with all the situations that may arise during your pet's life. It should provide detailed information to ensure that the likes, dislikes and routines of your pet are made known and respected. A well drafted trust allows the owner, in a sense, to always be with his or her pet.
Q. How do I fund the trust?
A. A testamentary trust, is funded through assets designated in your Will. If a statutory trust, the best approach is to open a bank account in the trust's name over which you, as the original trustee, have control during your lifetime and which you can supplement as your financial circumstances allow. Either type of trust can be funded with virtually any asset you may own. Popular approaches include naming the trust as a full or partial beneficiary of a life insurance policy, annuities or retirement accounts or pay on death bank accounts. You can also transfer real estate to the trust now or through your Will.
Q. How much should I put in the trust?
A. That depends. Is the trust for the benefit of one or multiple pets? What is the age of the pet or pets and what are the anticipated medical needs? Will medical bills be paid through a comprehensive pet insurance policy or out of pocket? What sort of standard of living do you want for your pet(s)? Will the trustee and/or the the caregiver be paid and, if so, how much? Will the trust pay for sitters or other temporary caretakers if the caregiver is unavailable by vacation or emergency?
Q. What happens if I put too much money in the trust?
A. You may be thinking about the case where a court reduced the amount that Leona Helmsley left for the care of her Maltese, Trouble, from $12 million to a more "modest" $2 million. The court has no express power under Section 15212 to reduce the amount placed in the trust, however, if it is excessive family members may take action. The best approach is to put in no more than twice the amount you believe will be needed.
Q. What happens to any money left in the trust on the death of the pet(s) it covered?
. You can and should designate in the trust the persons or organizations you want to receive the surplus. Many leave the remainder to relatives, friends or to organizations like the Humane Society, the SPCA or local animal rescue groups. You should be very careful about leaving the surplus to the caregiver as that person may be tempted to put his or her financial interests ahead of the welfare of your pet.
Q. Who should I select to act as a trustee?
It should be someone who cares about your pet and who will devote the time necessary to handling the trust's finances and periodically monitoring your pet's care. Most importantly, it must be someone who has agreed to and can meet these responsibilities throughout your pet's lifetime. Because this is not always possible, it is important to name others as successor or replacement trustees.
Q. Who should I select to act as a caregiver?
. Choose someone you believe will provide a good home for your pet. Relatives, friends and neighbors are all good candidates but if none are available there are organizations that will take on this responsibility. Successor caregivers should be named to give the trustee the option to place your pet elsewhere should circumstances warrant a change.
Q. Should I check to see if the persons I select as trustees and caregivers will accept these posts?
Q. What happens if the trust runs out of funds before my pet dies?
.If this occurs you are dependent upon the good will and financial circumstances of your caregiver. It is for this reason that you should use great care in choosing this person and his or her successors. The trust instrument should contain a provision naming a person or organization you want your pet to go when all else fails. There are, for example, many breed specific and other rescue organizations that will try to place your pet in a permanent home or provide foster care for it.
Q. How do I get a pet trust?
Contact this office at 310 402-8589 so we can discuss how you can protect's your pet's future through an affordable pet trust. The initial consultation is free.
Note: This material is being published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to nor does it create an attorney client relationship. Each person's circumstances and intentions may differ and it is for that reason that those interested in protecting their pets should retain an attorney or estate planner to assist them in planning for their pet's future.