Estate Planning For Pets

Many people worry about what will happen to their dog, cat, or other pet after they pass. Your pet can bring joy and comfort, and the thought of them going to an animal shelter or feeling lost and alone can be heartbreaking. Estate planning for pets is an important part of the overall estate planning process; working with the experienced estate planning attorneys at Von Rock Law can give you peace of mind, knowing you established care for your beloved animals if something happens to you. Contact us at (866) 720-0195 to learn about your legal options.

Can I Leave an Inheritance For My Pet?

In California, pet owners may not name a pet as a beneficiary in their will, at least not directly. Pets are considered property by the state and are treated as such. A piece of property (a pet) cannot own other property (any money or assets one would leave in a will). Therefore, they cannot inherit under California probate law. However, California probate laws allow a few vehicles by which pet owners can provide funds and assign caregivers for their beloved animals.

Establishing a Pet Trust

A pet trust ensures that animals are provided for after their owner passes or incapacitated and cannot manage their care alone. The trust can be part of an existing revocable or irrevocable trust, or it can be an entirely new legal entity. Pet trusts allow the trust owner to name a caretaker, which creates a fiduciary duty on their part to care for the animal in the manner stipulated by the trust. The trust can also be written to list successive caretakers for the pet if the preferred caregiver is unable or unwilling to take ownership.

For example, if you breed dogs and wish to have certain ones continue to provide breeding services, you may require that in the trust. Or, if you have a cat who requires ongoing medical care, such as injections for diabetes, you can provide funds to cover their vet care in the trust. The pet trust trustee is responsible for ensuring that the funds in the trust are used according to its terms and conditions, i.e., the care of the pet.

Without a pet trust, the pet becomes the legal property of the new owner, who will make all the care decisions for the animal.

Establishing a Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care

A Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Pet Care functions much in the same manner as a durable power of attorney for a person’s care does. The legal document names a decision-maker for another party’s medical treatment and other personal care if that individual is unable to advocate for themselves or voice their own wishes. You may opt to add care for your animals to your own POA if it is written to be “effective immediately” so that the new caregiver can start looking after them right away.

If you aren’t sure which kind of estate planning for pets document you need, consult with an estate planning law firm experienced in drafting documents for animals, like Von Rock Law in San Francisco.

What Happens to an Animal When its Owner Dies?

Without estate planning documents, like a Pet Trust or a durable POA for the animal, the pet will likely end up with the owner’s heirs or beneficiaries. Because the pet is considered property, an argument can be made that the pet should go to a legal heir. However, sometimes the inheriting person may not want the pet, in which case they have the authority to decide where the animal goes. Area shelters or SPCA facilities are the most likely destination for a pet without a care plan.

Some pet owners may not know anyone who can or will care for their pet after they die, so a pet trust or a durable POA for their animal are not options. A local SPCA program, veterinary school, or a private animal sanctuary or rescue organization may be entrusted with the care of your animal, instead.

Is My Pet Considered an Asset?

California considers pets and other owned animals to be property and, therefore, a valuable asset. While many pets have more sentimental value than monetary, some pets can be worth quite a bit of money, such as horses, purebred cats or dogs, and other breeding animals. If someone dies intestate (without a will) in California, their pets will be valued along with their other property.

Considerations for Pet Guardians and Estate Planning

Careful consideration of the animal’s guardian is a critical part of estate planning for pets. Ask yourself these questions before naming a caretaker for your animals:

  • Does your pet have special care requirements (health concerns or unusual behavior) that require special attention or planning?
  • Where would you like the pet to live, and should it live indoors or out?
  • Can you provide financial support to ensure your pet is properly cared for?
  • Can the appointed caregiver take responsibility for the animal’s daily care?  
  • Who will administer the assets or funds left for the pet’s care?
  • Who will be responsible for the oversight and administration of the assets left for the benefit of your pets?

Pet estate plans are unique to each animal. Some hard-to-place pets or animals that require dedicated care may be more at home at an animal sanctuary rather than placed in a shelter for adoption. Your estate planning lawyer can help you with all the considerations of your pet’s care, soothing your worries about what will happen to your beloved animal.

Do You Need Estate Planning For Pets in San Francisco?

If you are worried about the fate of your animal if you get into a serious accident or pass away, there are several steps you can take. Estate planning for pets creates legal provisions to ensure that your animals go to a good home, have their needs properly met, and are cared for in the manner you desire. Von Rock Law works with clients throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area for estate planning services. Contact us today at (866) 720-0195 to learn more about California probate laws for pets.

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