ACCOUNTING FOR YOUR PETS
IN YOUR ESTATE PLAN
May 14, 2022
Estate planning involves ensuring your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone and that your estate is distributed as you wish. This naturally involves your family members and others for whom you care, but what if you have a treasured pet that you may outlive. Can you make provisions for that special friend in your estate planning?
There are indeed ways to provide for the care of your pet or pets in your will, or even better, in a living trust, but your pet is not going to directly inherit money or assets from you. You will need to name a caretaker and provide that person with sufficient resources to care for your friend.
For all your estate planning needs in or around Redlands, California, or nearby in Rancho Cucamonga, Palm Springs, or Riverside, contact The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC. Our team has been helping a diverse clientele create estate plans that provide peace of mind and assurances for all involved.
CARING FOR YOUR
Many of us remember how New York hotel heiress Leona Helmsley left $12 million, the bulk of her estate, to her pet Maltese named Trouble. Leona left Trouble to her brother, who refused to care for it, so Trouble was sent to Florida to live out her final days in luxury. She was then interred next to Leona at the Helmsley family mausoleum.
Those of us with pets probably don’t have that kind of money to provide for our friends after we’re gone, but one point to remember in California is that you cannot leave money directly to a pet. A pet is considered property under California law, and you cannot bestow property upon property when you’re gone.
That leaves two legal options: using your last will and testament or creating a pet trust.
NAMING A PET
CARETAKER IN A WILL
Though you can’t leave money directly to your pet, you can include a provision in your will for someone to care for the animal, but there are limitations.
Say you decide to leave your beloved dog to a relative, and to provide for the pet’s care, you leave a lump-sum allotment for food, veterinarian care, and other needs. Your relative then decides that they need the money for personal needs and spends it. There is no law preventing this if you use a will, as the means to provide for your pet.
CREATING A PET TRUST
A pet trust can be used to care for your friend if you die or become incapacitated. As in a will, you can name a caretaker and leave an amount of money for the animal’s necessities. But unlike a will, the money allocated in a trust cannot be used for other purposes. California trust law states:
“Except as expressly provided otherwise in the trust instrument, the principal or income shall not be converted to the use of the trustee or to any use other than for the benefit of the animal.”
Other advantages of creating a trust include being able to dictate how the pet should be cared for and how any leftover money should be distributed. You can also name someone to enforce the trust and go to court if necessary to ensure the pet is taken care of as you desired.
WITHOUT A PLAN?
If you don’t use a will or pet trust to care for your animal, then what happens will depend on a variety of factors. If you have a will and name a residual beneficiary who will get the remainder of your estate after specific gifts have been distributed, that person will get the pet. If you die without a will, the probate court may end up deciding your pet’s fate according to the state’s intestacy laws of inheritance.
TURN TO GUIDANCE
YOU CAN TRUST
Surely, if you have pets, you want to include them in your estate planning. Maybe your spouse or family will be glad to take care of them when you’re gone to avoid provisions in a will or trust, but it’s always better to cover every possibility when planning for the future.
The attorneys at The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, can help you in every aspect of your estate planning. Contact them today to get started or review and update whatever you already have in place. They proudly serve clients throughout Southern California, including Redlands, Riverside, Rancho Cucamonga, and Palm Springs.