Setting Up a Trust for Your Pets
In California, a pet trust is a legal document stating how you want your pets cared for physically and financially upon your passing. It may also cover your pet's needs if you become disabled or unable to care for your pets yourself.
Knowing how pet trusts work, the decisions you must make, and why you should consider one is important when you're setting up your estate plan. At the Martens & Brusseau Law Corporation, we can help you understand your options and the process.
For legal help, contact our pet trust lawyers in Visalia at (559) 622-8640.
Understanding Pet Trusts
Unlike your children or other family members, you can't leave money to your pets. Instead, you can leave it to a person you choose to take care of your pets.
You choose a person (or persons) to care for your pet upon your passing or if you become disabled/too ill to care for the animals.
In the trust, you are the grantor, and you choose a trustee (the person to care for your pet). You state how much money you're leaving for the pet's care and how the trustee should use the funds.
You may leave funds for all types of care, including:
- Medical care
You may also specify any specifics about your pet's medical care. If you have specific end-of-life decisions, including burial arrangements already chosen, add them too.
One main aspect of a pet trust is pet identification. To prevent trust fraud, you must identify your pet. If you have a dog or cat, microchip them for easy identification. You may also include detailed photos in your trust plans to ensure that there aren't any mistakes in identity. Your trust should also include a detailed written description of your pet, including the type (dog, cat, horse, etc.), colors, breed, and any other descriptive information that identifies them.
How to Create a Pet Trust
Just like an estate trust, you'll choose a trustee (the person who will take possession of and care for your pet). You should also select a successor trustee should your original trustee fall ill or pass away while your pet is still alive.
You may only create a trust for pets living at the time you were alive. If your pet has babies or you arranged for a future pet in some manner, the trust does not cover them. It only covers pets in your care while you were alive.
The caretaking instructions are the crux of a pet estate. They state how you want your pet cared for and should be as specific as possible.
- How/where your pet lives – indoors or outdoors?
- The specific lifestyle they're used to living (sleeping in your bed, eating at certain times, etc.)
- The type of food your pet eats (and any foods to avoid)
- Specific habits, such as walks at certain times in certain places
- The frequency of vet visits as they pertain to any special health conditions
- Any special needs your pet has
- Any special toys or 'loveys' your pet has
The trust should also include information about the financial aspect of caring for your pet. Your trust should state the amount of money dedicated to your pet's care and how you want it spent. This should coincide with the instructions you provided above, but if anything is unclear, make sure you specify.
Your pet's trust should also include how you want the caregiver to handle your pet's passing. If there is any money left after your pet passes, how do you want it handled?
The Financial Aspects of a Pet Trust
Once you set up the trust specifics, it's time to fund it.
Two options are available:
- Testamentary trust – The funds are available when you pass away, as they come from your estate and are only available upon your passing.
- Statutory trust – You fund the trust when you establish it.
When determining how much money to put in the trust, consider all aspects of pet care:
- How much does it cost to feed your dog monthly? Multiply that number by 12 and then the number of years you expect your pet to live.
- What are the average veterinary visit costs per year? Multiply that number by 12 and the number of years you expect your pet to live.
- Add a cushion for any emergency vet visits/medical needs.
- Do you have pet insurance? Include the amount for the premiums and co-pays.
- What other costs does your pet incur monthly or annually? Document them and fund the trust with enough money.
Dealing with Leftover Funds
There are financial gaps regarding how much money you may put in your pet's trust fund. The money should be realistic for your pet's care and life expectancy. If you put too much, your family may contest the amount in court, which costs money and isn't the intended use you had for your estate.
Since it's hard to pinpoint an exact number for future needs, you should designate what should happen with the funds if there is an excess amount. Whether you designate it to other family members or a charity, be specific about its use.
Why Consider a Pet Trust?
Your pet is a part of your family. Whether you have a dog, cat, or both, you want to know they are well cared for upon your passing. A trust provides not only the funds for proper care but also the instructions for the person who inherits your pet(s) when you die.
You can set up a trust while you're alive, should you become unable to give your pet the care it needs, and upon your passing. It's reassurance that your pet will be just as cared for when you are unable to take care of them as when you were able to.
Just like kids, your pets need proper care. Let us help you set up a pet trust for your dog or cat, giving you peace of mind. Speak with our Visalia attorneys at the Martens & Brusseau Law Corporation by contacting us at (559) 622-8640.