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Chris Jones: Pet Trusts Are New Protection for Our Furry Friends

The primary goal of estate planning is to have our wishes carried out, especially when we are not here. Those wishes include care for ourselves if we become disabled, and care for those who matter the most to us.

Among those, for example, are the pet companions that have made such a difference for us. You naturally want to make sure that your dear pet companions are cared for when you are no longer able to be their caregiver. They have served you and added to the quality of your life.

How can you guarantee that others will provide for them as you would wish?

Up until this 2009, there was no guarantee that will or trust provisions providing for your pets’ care would be enforced by the courts. The enforcement of such trusts was entirely discretionary, and the estate representative could either ignore them or rewrite them as they wished.

For example, if family members objected to the amount left in trust for pet care, they could ask the court to reduce it. No one stood up for the pets, and the law said that such trust provisions were unenforceable. The results could be entirely different than your wishes.

While the Legislature may have trouble agreeing on many topics, it did pass a law that guarantees your pets’ care will be provided as you direct in your estate planning documents. California Probate Code Section 15212 makes a trust for the care of an animal enforceable by the courts.

Your estate planning documents are to be liberally construed to make the pet trust legally enforceable, and so as to carry out your intent. As long as your trust provides that the funds may not be converted to the use of the trustee, and provides for the distribution of unused funds upon the termination of the trust, you can count on your pets being cared for as you wish.

Because our pets can’t speak for themselves, your trust should designate a person or nonprofit agency to enforce its terms. If you don’t, the courts may appoint someone for the specific purpose of enforcing your pet trust provisions.

Moreover, the Legislature has expanded the role of animal welfare charities to review the trustee’s accountings of how the money is being spent on your pets, and even inspect your pets and the premises where your pets are being maintained.

Because human beneficiaries will want the least amount spent on your pets and domestic animals, it is important to choose a pet trustee who is only interested in the welfare of your animals. The statute strictly requires that trust funds be dedicated to the pet beneficiary and no one else.

This statute is an important tool in caring for beings who can’t speak for themselves. You now have a voice for your pets’ care and treatment. Using that voice will enhance the quality of your life and certainly the quality of your pets’ lives.

What a great tool in giving our companions the care that they deserve in their advance years!

Chris Jones is an attorney at Rogers, Sheffield & Campbell LLP, a Santa Barbara law firm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. For legal advice on any of the information in this post, click here for the form or phone number on the Rogers, Sheffield & Campbell Contact Us page.

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