Estate Planning for Pet Owners: What Will Happen to Fido?

Most of the decisions you make with your estate planning attorney will focus on providing for your beneficiaries, specifying final wishes, deciding who will receive certain assets, or determining how your accounts should be handled if you are ever incapacitated. But what about your pets? If something happens to you, your beloved best friends will still need loving care. What will happen to them?

According to California state law, you can actually establish a trust (or provide for a pet with a provision in your revocable estate planning trust) to provide for your companion animal’s care after your death. Luckily, the law defines “companion animal” as any “domestic or pet animal”, leaving interpretation quite open so that practically any animal can be covered by the provision.

Obviously, you can’t leave a sum of cash to Fido, so that he can pay his bills and purchase his favorite treats! The money you place in a trust for your furry (or finned, or feathery) friend will be used by the trustee of your choice to care for your pet. State law even specifies that money in the trust can only be used for your companion animal’s care, and not for the trustee. Of course, you should still select a trustee whom you trust completely.

If you do decide to establish a trust for the care of your pet, be aware that the law provides for certain enforcement provisions. After your pet passes away, any money remaining in the trust will be transferred to the beneficiary of your choice. Those beneficiaries are entitled to ask for, and receive, accounting of how the money in the trust is used. Any other designated person, with an interest in the welfare of the animal, also has the right to enforce the trust. These beneficiaries even have the right to regularly inspect your pet to determine that the provisions set forth by the trust are carried out in full.

As you can see, establishing a trust for your pet is a common and well defined area of estate planning law. California state law actually takes this issue quite seriously, so that you can make important decisions with your estate planning attorney without fear of leaving your best friend unprotected.

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