Contrary to what many people think, you cannot simply leave money to your pet in your will. Pets are considered property under the law, so they cannot “inherit” money from you, as some people assume. Yet, even with a detailed provision in your will for your pet, you may not be securing your pet’s future as well as you might think. If you want to guarantee that your family friend will be properly cared for after your death, you should seriously consider a pet trust. Our Los Angeles estate planning lawyers can help you get started.
Understanding how a pet trust works
Pet trusts are much like any other type of trust, in how it is created and how it operates. The purpose of a pet trust is to provide a sufficient source of income and assets for the care of your pet. The trust agreement document includes specific instructions for your pet’s care, including the preferences you or your pet may have. You can choose to appoint an independent trustee to make sure that the terms of the trust are being followed by your caregiver. If you have questions about how it all works, let our Los Angeles estate planning lawyers help.
The difference between traditional and statutory pet trusts
There are basically two types of pet trusts used in pet estate planning: traditional pet and statutory. A traditional pet trust, the most common type, is effective in every state, regardless of where it was created. A traditional pet trust gives pet owners the most control over the details of their pet’s care. A statutory pet trust, on the other hand, is a basic pet plan with very little detail provided. Instead, the applicable state statutes fill in the details. With a statutory pet trust, you can include a simple provision in your will such as, “I leave $15,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Skip.”
How to Create a Pet Trust
A pet trust allows pet owners to leave their pet, along with the necessary financial resources, to a chosen caregiver while creating the legal obligation to provide care for your pet. Sometimes this is necessary if you are having a problem finding someone who will voluntarily care for your pet. If the caregiver does not follow the instructions included in the trust, he or she can be legally liable for violating the terms of the trust. While a pet trust is more complicated than less formal arrangements and, often more expensive, the legal obligation it creates can be more reassuring.
The Basic Terms Required in a Pet Trust
A pet trust basically contains terms that specifically identify your pet, the name of the chosen caregiver, the amount of money to be used to provide care, specific instructions regarding care, and provisions for what to do with any remaining funds, after the pet dies. You can also include instructions in the event you become unable to care for your pet for any reason, before your death. Let our Los Angeles estate planning lawyers discuss other choices with you.
A pet trust is more reliable than a will
If you want a guarantee that your pet will be properly cared for after your death, simply mentioning them in your will is not enough by any means. First, pet provisions included in a will are not legally enforceable. In other words, once your pet is handed over to your chosen caregiver, you have no control over what happens next. Your pet becomes the property of the caregiver, to do with whatever he or she decides. Remember, the only purpose of a will is to distribute property. So, your caregiver will not be legally obligated to care for your pet or to actually use the money you designate for your pet, for that purpose. To be sure that your instructions are followed, a pet trust is the best option.
What happens if you don’t have a pet trust?
The reality is, your pet is considered property, and simply a part of your estate. If you do not have any estate planning document that specifically addresses future care for your pet, the pet will be given to your residuary beneficiary. The residuary beneficiary is the person who inherits the remainder of your estate after all other inheritances have been transferred. If you did not have a will, your pet will be distributed with all of your other personal property, according to your state’s intestate succession laws. So, be sure to plan ahead, and your favorite family friend will be well taken care of after you are gone.
Join us for a free seminar today! If you have questions regarding estate planning, trust contests, or any other trust administration issues, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us in Los Angeles at (310) 337-7696, and in Orange County at (562) 346-3209.