15th Nov 2013

For many of us, pets are a part of the family.   However, we sometimes worry about what will happen to them in the event of our death.  If you are a resident of California, you do not have to worry.  As an estate planning attorney from Orange County, let me tell you that California has a revised pet trust statute which is stated in California Probate Code Section 15212.

Just like with estate plans for people, a pet trust essentially ensures that the pet you designate in your pet trust will be cared for after you die.  In a pet trust, you nominate the following:  your pet or pets who will be cared for when you die, a trustee who will be managing the fund earmarked for your pet or pets, a caretaker who will take care of the pet and “remainder beneficiaries”  who shall receive what remains of the trust fund when the pet dies. 
Let us examine each role in detail:
The trusteeis the “money man.”  He will be the one in charge of the trust fund when you die. You may specify in your trust how much discretion he may have over the trust fund like what should be the depository bank or if he may invest the money so the fund can still grow.  As the pet owner and Trustor, you have to have a reasonable estimate of how far your trust fund will go.  Ideally there may still be remaining funds when the pet dies.  In this case, the pet trust expires. 
The caretaker is the person who takes care of the pet.  He feeds the pet and, if applicable, bathes it, exercises it, and grooms it. If the pet dies, the caretaker will also handle the burial (if such is explicitly stated in the pet trust).  The caretaker should be a person who loves and understands the particular pet he/she is assigned to. It is also possible that the trustee and the caretaker are the same person.  Whether one person or two different persons, the trustee and caretaker should manage the fund so that it will not run out before the pet dies.             
Now, if your pet dies and there are funds remaining, they will be transferred to people you designate to be the beneficiaries.  In pet trusts, these are called “remainder beneficiaries.”  As with estate plans for people, the allocation of the remainder funds does not have to be equal per beneficiary. You can specify that a person gets fifty percent of the funds while another one gets only 10 percent and so on.  In case there are funds remaining when your pet dies, it will be your trustee who shall oversee the distribution of the funds.
You can see that a pet trust operates in much the same way like a trust intended for people.  But as with living trusts for people, you have to be clear with your instructions so that your wishes after your death will truly be met. As a estate planning specialist from Orange County, I always emphasize to my clients that they check with their lawyers to make sure their instructions are crystal clear.

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