In the probate world we like to say if there’s a question the answer is in the California Probate Code. However, this wouldn’t apply to people leaving money to their pets, right!? That only happens in the movies, right!? Well, guess what… California Probate Code section 15212 covers PET TRUSTS.
Come on, we are California, remember!? We do everything in a progressive manner! Probate Code section 15212 in part (a) provides, “(a) Subject to the requirements of this section, a trust for the care of an animal is a trust for a lawful noncharitable purpose. Unless expressly provided in the trust, the trust terminates when no animal living on the date of the settlor’s death remains alive. The governing instrument of the animal trust shall be liberally construed to bring the trust within this section, to presume against the merely precatory or honorary nature of the disposition, and to carry out the general intent of the settlor. Extrinsic evidence is admissible in determining the settlor’s intent.”
Not only is there a law but it’s to be liberally construed to create these pet trusts. In fact, pet trusts are pretty simple. They basically provide that the money is to be used for the pet(s) until all pets, alive at the date of death of the decedent, are deceased. Also, it only applies to household pets but you could probably take that definition pretty far. After the last pet dies the money is to be distributed as provided for in the trust instrument. That is, the document might say “I leave $25,000 in trust for my pet snake, Jake, and at Jake’s death whatever is left shall go to brother Bob who is a used car salesman… that snake.”
Ok, I ad libed a little but you get the point. You also would want to name a trustee to manage the money. This should be a trustworthy person!
I know what you are thinking… “do I really need a trust to leave a few bucks so my friend can take care of my dog?” Of course not! You can just give your trusted friend a gift in your trust, at death, and mention in the document that you hope they will take care of your pet with the money. We often write something like, “I give my friend Jack my pets at my death along with $5,000 to care for them if I have pets at my death.” However, it’s precatory(or “optional”) language so make sure the friend is trusted.
In my experience a pet trust is applicable for cases with pets that will live a really long time (I think birds and turtles can live 50+ years), where there is a lot of money, or where you want to leave a house for the pet to live in. Oh yes people really do that! You also could set one for while you are alive to take effect when you move to a nursing home and Fido, your great dane, can’t go with you!
In the end make sure your attorney is a qualified estate planning attorney. They should be familiar with the probate code for pet trusts and can set up a document that takes care of your pet when you are no longer here to do so yourself!
Call me with questions! -John