Providing Care for Your Pets in a Trust in California

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18th Oct 2012

Many people who create trusts for their estate also have pets to worry about. One such person was hotel heiress and billionaire Leona Helmsly who died in 2007. In her particular case, her pet Maltese was the beneficiary of $12 million that was left in a pet trust for its continued care after her death. Although plenty of money was left in her will for the pet, she did not ensure her pet would be cared for after she died.

The Maltese, 9, lost $10 million of her $12 million trust fund to charity after a judge signed off on a deal that gives the late billionaire’s disinherited grandchildren a piece of the Helmsley fortune, reported the New York Post.

Because of inadequate legal advice, Helmsley stated her preferences in a will, rather than securing a pet trust for her dog. The result was what is stated above. Meanwhile, her dying wishes for her brother to be the caretaker of her beloved pet have gone largely ignored, and Trouble (the name of the Maltese) now lives in Florida with Carlekic, manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel.

Most people obviously cannot afford to leave that kind of money for their pets, on average the amount left is closer to $25,000 according to Lawyers Weekly USA. However, they do need to ensure that their pet trust is done right so that your beloved pet gets the care it deserves after you are gone. Here are some tips to ensure that happens.

You know your pet’s habits and needs better than anybody therefore in your trust, you can describe the kind of care your pet should have, and you can list the trusted people who would be willing to provide that care.

There are two different types of pet trusts; traditional and statutory.  A traditional pet trust is effective in all states, and it is a legally enforceable agreement. These are designed so that pet owners can leave specific instructions via a pet trust attorney concerning the care of their pet including the pet’s caregiver (beneficiary), the type of care the pet should receive, and details regarding the standard of living for the pet and so on. If the caregiver (beneficiary) does not follow the instructions, the pet owner can use a pet trust to appoint an alternate beneficiary to carry out the trust as instructed.
The other option is a statutory pet trust which allows the owner to leave fewer instructions, but is still more effective than a will in assuring the pet’s care and well-being after the owner is no longer able to care for the pet. In California, both traditional and statutory pet trusts are legally enforceable according to the pet owner’s exact instructions.

Be sure to leave an adequate amount of money for the pet so that its caregiver may provide the same care that you did without any trouble. 
Make sure to carefully select the caregiver.  This should be a person who knows and loves your pet, who has the time to take care of them and who has said they would gladly take on this responsibility.

If you are a pet owner who wants to establish a pet trust, or otherwise provide long-term care for your pet, a qualified estate planning attorney who has experience creating pet trusts in California will be able to help you understand your pet trust planning options, and will be able to assist you in designing a pet trust that meets your needs and those of your pets.

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