When most people think of pet trusts, they automatically picture Leona Helmsley's beloved Maltese (Trouble) to whom she left $12 million in Trust.
However, in recent years there has been a considerable increase in people wanting to mention their pets in their estate plans. These requests are neither odd nor eccentric. Rather they reflect an increased awareness in society, recognizing the importance of caring for pets after the death of the owner.
Fortunately, California legislature has kept pace with this societal shift, and in 2008 Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law Probate Code Section 15212, which made pet trusts less complicated to create and more enforceable. These requests can be memorialized in stand-alone pet trusts or in a simple addition to a person's existing revocable living trust. Most frequently, people choose to include instructions in their existing trusts, telling people how to care for their pets upon their death.
For example, clients with two young children recently came into the law firm to discuss Child Guardianship Planning. They wanted to name Guardians for their minor children and discuss methods to minimize the disruption to their children's lives should the parents pass away unexpectedly. One of the ways to accomplish this goal is to ensure that the children and family pet(s) are cared for by the same person and live under the same roof. Provisions were included in their Trust documents to include a pet trust and a sum of money to be given to the children's guardian to reimburse them for the care of the pet(s).
More detailed pet trusts often hold a sum of money or other assets in Trust for the benefit of one or more designated pets. Just as a parent would designate Guardians for their minor children, pet parents can name a Care Manager for their pets. Although no one can care for your pet as well as you can, the Care Manager is tasked with the duty to care for the pet and serve as the "surrogate owner." Additionally, a Trustee is named to manage and distribute the assets to the Care Manager. The powers conveyed by these roles require substantial Trust and confidence. Consequently, the people designated to serve as Care Manager and Trustee should be given considerable thought.
Regardless of your income level and net worth, if you're contemplating estate planning or updating your existing Trust, pet parents should consider adding a pet trust to their estate plan.