Nowadays approximately 37-47% of all households in the United States have a dog and 30-37% of households have a cat. (Source APPA; ASPCA.org). Pets are as common as children, and for many people, pets ARE their children. Trusts are created to ensure your assets pass down to those who mean the most to you….but what do you do when your pet is as important to you as your child?
In 2008, California passed a law allowing pet trusts to be legally enforceable. What does this mean? Well, prior to 2008, pet owners would include their pets as beneficiaries of their will or trust by simply stating something like “I leave $5,000 to my friend John to take care of my cat.” While the funds would be given to John for the care of your cat, there’s no saying whether the funds would actually get used for your cat’s care. With the new law, if your plan states “I leave $5,000 in trust for my cat and appoint John to act as caregiver,” it is legally enforceable and the funds are to be used only for your cat. The trust will allow you to provide assets and care instructions for your cat in case you become incapacitated or deceased. The trust is required to have a trustee; if you do not appoint a trustee, the court will appoint one for you. Additionally, remainder beneficiaries should be set up in the event that your cat dies and funds still remain in the trust.
If you don’t want to create a trust, it’s good to know that there are programs that you can enroll your pets in and those programs provide care for your pets after you become incapacitated or deceased. For example, the San Francisco SPCA has a program called “Sido.” You enroll your dogs or cats (no other pets are accepted for this program) into the program, and once you can no longer care for your pet, the San Francisco SPCA is committed to find them a home. The program finds a home, makes sure the new owners follow food and medicine regimens, provide two years of veterinary care to the new owners, and if you have a bonded pair of animals, they make sure that they are adopted as a bonded pair. While the S.F. SPCA can’t enforce exact wishes as “I want my cat to get a stomach rub at 2:00 p.m. every day,” they make sure they get into a home that keeps them comfortable.
It’s good to remember your pets while creating your estate plan and make sure you have them properly set up for care after you pass away.
Information referenced from San Francisco Chronicle article “The perks of being a trust fund pet” by Kathleen Pender.