California pet owners can include pets in estate plans

Many California pet lovers may be concerned about what will happen to their beloved pet after they pass away. A good estate plan should ensure that four-legged friends and other companions are cared for. Fortunately, over the years the law has increasingly come to recognize that some people want to provide for pets in their wills and has created mechanisms for them to do so.

Writers of the Uniform Trust Code, which provides a series of model laws related to estate planning that can be adopted by state legislatures, eventually drafted laws regarding a trust designed especially for pets. Pet trusts allow people to set aside an amount of money for the continued maintenance of a pet or pets. Like other trusts, there must be someone to manage the funds and administer the trust on the pet's behalf.

The development of the pet trust followed a period when people attempted to leave money directly to pets. But such arrangements failed because the law considers pets property and therefore incapable of being an heir. Others attempted to leave money to a person or organization that would care for the pet.

But even this arrangement has shortcomings. Without the oversight that a trust provides, the pet owner just has to hope that the designated caregiver will use the allotted funds for the care of the pet and will in fact take good care of the animal. There have been reports of funds being spent for other purposes, leaving the pet neglected.

In a trust, an owner can make specific instructions regarding feeding, housing, and veterinary care to make sure that no neglect occurs. Generally, the trust lasts for the lifespan of the animal beneficiary. Money left in trust after the pet dies can be designated for a non-profit animal welfare organization or other purposes.

Source: Utica Observer-Dispatch, "Who cares for Fido after owners have died?" Kathy Antoniotti, May 1, 2012.

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