Most people are well aware that estate plans can ensure that their families, and especially children, are cared for if something were to happen to them – but what about pets? Many people are starting to realize that it is also important to prepare a plan for the care of their pets after their death as well.
To start making future plans for your pets, you need to decide what is important to you, what kind of care you want to provide for your pets once you are no longer able to care for them yourselves, and of course analyze the value of your estate and duration of expected funds available for continued care.
Pet Guardianship Program
If your estate is of smaller value or you do not want to leave a large portion of your estate to your pets but instead to other beneficiaries, one option is to leave your pet to the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA’s Guardianship Program. Through this program, the SDHS will take your pet(s) (you can leave up to four pets) into their facilities and care for them as you direct, with reasonable limitations. A monetary distribution to the SDHS along with your pets would be accepted but is not required. All that you need to do is direct that the pet be given to the SDHS in your estate plan.
Additionally, the SDHS has pet personality profile forms that they recommend you fill out and provide to the SDHS. You can change these profiles at any time and the SDHS will follow up with you every two years to ensure that the forms are current. You could also print and keep these forms with your estate plan. It is also important to note that because of the generous support of its donors, currently the SDHS does not euthanize healthy or treatable animals.
Estate Planning – Pet Trusts
If you are looking for, and have the means to direct, more control over the care of your pets after you can no longer care for them, there are other estate planning options available as well. If you have someone who would be willing to take your pet and you trust them enough to leave the pet to them, you can do so in your estate plan. You can also leave a percentage or set sum of your estate to that person to care for your pet.
For even more control over the care of your pets, you can set up a pet trust. The basic idea is that you direct a trustee (who you designate in your trust, whether individual or professional fiduciary) to hold assets/funds (including real property) in trust for the benefit of your pets. You could further direct the trustee to appoint a caregiver to take care of your pets, or you can appoint a specific caregiver in your trust.
The possibilities for the care of your pets are many, and California Probate Code section 15212 requires courts to liberally construe and uphold any animal trust or bequest to an animal to create a trust for the care of the animal for a lawful non-charitable purpose. For example, you could direct the trustee to maintain your residence for the benefit of the pet and allow the caregiver to live there rent free to care for your pets. The trustee would be directed to pay the maintenance costs of the home and the pets out of the trust funds. You can also direct the trustee and caregiver to feed the pets certain foods, provide love and affection, restrict or abolish the use of kennels, or provide specific grooming instructions, among other options.
For more information about pet trusts or any other estate planning issues, contact Darcie Colihan in LGC’s San Diego office.