For many of us, our companion animals are an integral part of the family. However, too many of them end up in animal shelters after their guardians become unable to care for them or pass away because those guardians didn't plan for their future.
Sometimes, people assume that family members will care for their animals when they're no longer around. However, one bite by a frightened dog or clawing by a cat who doesn't enjoy his new home may put an end to that.
Increasingly, Californians are including their companion animals in their estate plans via what's commonly called a pet trust. Your attorney may refer to it differently. However, the purpose is to designate a caregiver for your animals, provide money for their care and leave instructions for the type of care you expect them to have.
These instructions can be as general or detailed as you choose. Most people just want to be assured that their animals will be in a safe, loving home where they'll have a good quality of life and that they're cared for if they become sick. Others may want to specify the type of food they get or the number of walks they go on each day.
You can also name your executor or someone else to monitor the animals' care by the designated caregiver after you're no longer around. That executor will probably be the one to provide the funds you've stipulated to your animal caregiver, either in a lump sum or periodically.
It should be stipulated that the funds in the trust are to be used solely for the care of your animals. You may want to designate a remainder beneficiary for whatever funds have gone unused after the last animal has passed away, or you may choose to let your caregiver keep the remaining funds.
Of course, as with any trustee, it's essential to make sure that the person you designate as your animal caregiver is able and willing to take on the responsibility, and that you update the trust if it becomes necessary to designate someone else.
While these trusts aren't legally recognized in all states, here in California, they have been for nearly a decade. Therefore, many California estate planning attorneys can provide guidance in drafting the language for your pet trust based on your wishes for your animals' care.
Source: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "Pet Trust Primer," accessed Dec. 27, 2017