I recently met with “Mabel,” an 85 year old client with a dog named “Buddy” who she loves very much. When Mabel dies who will take care of Buddy? She believes her neighbor will take Buddy but will he? Can Mabel do something to provide more security for Buddy? Herein lies a problem when the pet owner dies without having made plans for their beloved little friends. It is quite possible for a beloved pet to become homeless or forgotten. In either instance, the premature death of the animal is possible. For most pet lovers, like myself, this is not an acceptable outcome.
The first step in the planning process is to find friends or relatives who are willing to care for your pets, and provide them with a good home. You then need to find a qualified estate planning lawyer. You need a lawyer to draft, at a minimum, a durable power of attorney and a will. Both documents should clearly state who you desire to care for your pets if you become unable to do so yourself. You may also choose to leave some money to the caretaker with the intention that it be used to provide for the pet.
Contrary to what we see in the movies, most states do not allow a person to leave money directly to their pets. However, in 1991, California established Probate Code Section 15212, which gives a pet owner the ability to set up trusts which can last for the lifetime of the pet. This is an important change over prior laws, particularly for people with animals who are likely to live a long time.
Trusts CAN be set up to take care of your pets at least in California! I have personally drafted some pretty intricate trust provisions for pets. It can be as personal and specific as you desire!
Above all else make sure your attorney knows what provisions to put into your estate planning documents in regards to your pets. There are many attorneys with thirty years experience who have never provided in a will for a pet, so make sure your attorney knows what they are doing so that your little Buddy will be protected!