For many, especially persons who live alone, companion animals (hereinafter, “pets”) are like family, and for good reason. The Animal Health Foundation lists eight important benefits people enjoy by having a companion animal, including, more physical exercise, less stress, and alleviation of depression (www.animalhealthfoundation.org). Not surprisingly, people who are attached to their pets want them well cared if they can no longer do so themselves. A person’s estate planning can provide for the care of companion animals in the events of disability or death.
If a pet owner is disabled and unable to care for their pets, whether the pets remain at home varies depending on the duration and severity of the disability, the type of pet, the associated costs, the availability of at home pet care, and other factors. Naturally, keeping the pet’s companionship may be beneficial to the owner’s own recovery. Considering relevant goals and circumstances, a thoughtful plan can be devised and authorized (supported) in one’s estate planning.
A durable power of attorney and/or revocable living trust can authorize pet sitters, veterinary care, and boarding care. Also, placing the pet with trusted family, friends or through a not-for-profit’s pet placement program can be authorized. Depending on the pets involved, different not for profit pet care organizations may be available, e.g., humane societies, animal shelters, animal rescue groups, sanctuary organizations, and foster organizations.
Estate planning documents may authorize and direct desired approaches to be used and, perhaps, undesired approaches not to be used. For example, consider the following: “In the event of my incapacity, I direct that my pets be cared for at my home, as long as possible, for the mutual benefit of my pets and myself. I authorize my Agent to arrange for all necessary pet care and, as needed, veterinary treatment and disposition of my pets. If needed, my Agent may also temporarily, or if necessary permanently, place my pets in a loving home, preferably with my family or friends. Otherwise, my Agent may use a non for profit pet care organization, e.g., the San Francisco SPCA Adoption Program, to place my pets permanently in a loving home. In no event shall any organization be used that euthanizes pets. I authorize my Agent to spend the necessary money to implement my wishes, including giving a reasonable sum of money to the family that accepts my pets.”
Similarly, at a pet owner’s death, the owner’s trust or will, as relevant, may say who receives the pet or how the pet is otherwise to be placed. It can also authorize a gift of money to assist with the pet’s placement.
Giving money to a family who accepts a pet can initially make the placement agreeable. Over time the money runs out, however, but the pet care expenses remain (and often increase). Accordingly, depending on the pet care involved and the pet’s life expectancy, it may be desirable to put necessary assets into a so-called, “pet trust”. This is especially relevant to a pet with a long life expectancy, e.g., a horse or a parrot.
In California, a so-called “pet trust” can be established by a person for the care of their domestic or pet animal its lifetime (section 15212 of the Probate Code). For example, a person may leave suitable land (with a stable or barn) and financial assets in a pet trust to provide care for one or more horses that are alive at the owner’s death. The trustee would do accountings, and the trust would be enforceable, such as by a person named in the trust, by a non-profit charitable organization that cares for animals, or by a person appointed by the court.
The foregoing is a brief discussion of some issues considered in estate planning for pets. For legal guidance consult a qualified attorney.
Dennis A. Fordham, attorney, is a State Bar-Certified Specialist in estate planning, probate and trust law. His office is at 870 S. Main St., Lakeport, Calif. He can be reached at Dennis@DennisFordhamLaw.com and 707-263-3235.
“Serving Lake and Mendocino Counties for nineteen years, the Law Office of Dennis Fordham focuses on legacy and estate planning, trust and probate administration, and special needs planning. We are here for you. 870 South Main Street Lakeport, California 95453-4801. Phone: 707-263-3235.”