Pet Trusts: Estate Planning For Pets
The late New York hotel heiress, Leona Helmsley, left an estate in excess of Twelve-Million Dollars ($12,000,000.00) to her Maltese Terrier named “Trouble”. Unfortunately, no Trust was properly established for his lifetime care. Instead, Mrs. Helmsley simply designated her Brother to care for “Trouble”. However, he refused to do so. Thereafter, “Trouble” was given to a caretaker who used a significant amount of the fortune to hire permanent security guards due to the fact that “Trouble” became the target of a series of kidnapping threats. Finally, when “Trouble” died the remaining balance of Leona Helmsley’s estate was distributed to a series of charities.
My Beagle, “Prince”, or your favorite pet may not be the beneficiary of a multi-million dollar estate. However, California statutory law now allows you to establish in your estate plan a “Pet Trust” for the remainder of your fury companion’s lifetime. Such a Trust is typically contained in a separate Article in a client’s Revocable Living Trust, and come into existence upon the client’s date of death.
1. What is a “Pet Trust”?
A “Pet Trust” is a legally sanctioned Trust, established under a separate Article generally contained in your Revocable Living Trust which will direct the Successor Trustee following your death to hold property (i.e., cash, investments etc.) “in trust” for the lifetime benefit of your pet. Payments of both income and principal may be made for your pet’s well-being. The “Pet Trust” may continue for the lifetime of your pet and upon his or her death the remaining Trust assets will be distributed to your designated beneficiaries (i.e., SPCA, Guiding Dogs For The Blind etc.)
2. Why have a “Pet Trust” in California?
Because in California such a Trust is legally enforceable by statutory law. With the creation of a “Pet Trust” you can provide specific directions regarding your pet’s care including the brand of food he or she prefers, as well as directives for his or her maintenance and care. You can also list the persons whom you desire to provide such care, including their compensation.
Additional “Pet Trust” provisions should include the following:
- Identifying your pet or pets by name to avoid fraud,
- Describe in detail the pet’s standard of living and care,
- Require regular veterinarian visits for your pet,
- Determine the amount funds you desire to allocate to the Trust for your pet’s lifetime care,
- Designate a remainder beneficiary in the event there are funds remaining in the Trust following your pet’s demise, and
- Provide final instructions for cremation or other disposition of your pet’s remains.Finally, a “Pet Trust” is a valid estate planning technique for anyone who owns a companion dog or other domesticated animal. Your pet becomes a member of your family, and adequate provisions should be made for him or her in the event your fury companion survives you.