Pet Trusts: Making Sure Your Four-Legged Family Members Are Provided For

When comedian Joan Rivers passed away, many people noticed that she had made providing for her two beloved rescue dogs a part of her estate plan. As her goddaughter noted, "She loved her dogs dearly, and they meant so much to her … dogs have become accepted as such essential family members that providing for them well in life, and after death, is considered quite normal."

Indeed, we all love our pets and wish to see them happy and healthy. They give us their unconditional love during their lives and we do our best to return it. But what happens in the event you become disabled or pass away? Who will take care your pet(s) if you are gone, or unable to care for them?

Just as you plan ahead for other contingencies when you pass away or become disabled, you can and should make arrangements for the care and well-being of your pets. Consider these options:

  • You can get a commitment from family members or friends to take care of your pet(s), and/or give them a cash bequest to help cover the costs, however these arrangements are not legally enforceable.
  • You can give a family member, or friend a power of attorney, so they can take care of your pet(s) if you are disabled or are otherwise unavailable.
  • You can establish a testamentary trust for your pet in your will. The testamentary trust will become effective only after your death and is funded through your will.
  • You can establish a statutory living trust which creates a separate trust for your pet(s). This trust is authorized by California Probate Code § 15212 and it establishes a legally binding commitment for your successor trustee to provide for your pet(s). It can also provide funding for pet expenses.

The use of either a statutory living trust or a testamentary trust can assure that your pet(s) will be taken care of after you are gone. In order to get the best result from your trust, you should consider giving your trustee information on the following:

  • Food and diet
  • Daily routines
  • Preferable play toys
  • Grooming
  • Medical care including prescription medicines and primary veterinarian
  • Compensation of trustee
  • How to identify the pet(s)
  • How to dispose of the pet's remains (burial, cremation, etc.)

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