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Pet Trusts

Caring for your furrier family members.


The animals in our lives become part of our families. We depend on them for companionship, support, and love, and they depend on us for care and protection. 

What will happen to my animals
if something happens to me?


If you end up in the hospital for an extended period, who will care for your pet? When you die, will your beloved animals end up in a shelter, or will someone who knows and loves them provide care?

Making sure your pets are cared for.


Many pets and domestic animals have long lives, and may outlive us. Horses typically live 25-30 years, and some live longer. Macaws and some reptiles can have lifespans that exceed those of humans. Even shorter-lived pets, such as dogs and cats, may outlive us if we acquire them when we’re already older.



We typically provide for our children by leaving them inheritances. But an animal cannot legally receive an inheritance. So what is to be done? How can we be sure that our animals will have food, shelter, and veterinary care if we become incapacitated, or after our death?

Should I leave money in my will for someone to care for my animals?


Leaving money in a will is not the best way to provide for your pet, for many reasons. For one thing, a will only takes effect at your death. It can’t help arrange for your pet’s care while you are incapacitated.There is also a delay between your death and the will being probated, which would leave your pet in limbo, likely being moved around and cared for by a variety of people while the estate settles.


You also cannot guarantee your pet will actually be cared for, or how she will be cared for. The person you leave the money to for taking care of your pet will own that money – and whether or how they take care of your pet will depend on their honor and their opinions about pet care. Since a pet cannot go to court, there is no one who can make the person take care of your pet according to your instructions.

How does a Pet Trust provide for my pets?


Under California law, a Pet Trust is a legally binding document that ensures that funds are available and a caretaking system is in place. You set aside an amount of money, based on the pet’s expected lifetime, and typical expenses, for the care of the pet.

The pet trust can be written to take effect if you become incapacitated, or you can set it up to become effective upon your death and make other arrangements for animal care if you are incapacitated.The trust must be properly drafted by an attorney, because money cannot be left to a pet, but can be left for the care and benefit of the pet.


In the Trust, you name a Trustee (someone who manages the Trust) and a caretaker. The Trustee allocates funds to the caretaker, who physically cares for the pet according to your directions and guidelines stated in the Trust.

In the Trust, you may provide specific directions for health care needs, diet and exercise, preferred veterinarians, and burial or cremation plans. 


If you have more than one pet, you can direct that the pet “siblings” live together. A Pet Trust should have sufficient funds that will care for your pet or domestic animal for his expected lifetime. You should leave specific care instructions, and even instructions similar to a “living will” to detail when extraordinary veterinary care should be used and when it should not be. 

Here are some examples of the types of concerns about which you may wish to provide instructions:
  • Food and diet.

  • Daily routines and socialization.

  • Toys.

  • Cages, kennels, or crates.

  • Grooming.

  • Medical care, including preferred veterinarian.

  • Compensation, if any, for the caregiver.

  • Method the caregiver must use to document expenditures for reimbursement.

  • Whether the trust will pay for liability insurance in case the animal bites or otherwise injures someone.

  • How the trustee is to monitor caregiver’s services.

  • How to identify the animal.

  • Disposition of the pet’s remains, e.g., burial, cremation, memorial, etc.

These instructions are likely to be different for different animals, and may change over time as the pet ages.

Because of this, detailed instructions can be given in a dated and signed schedule which the pet owner can update as needed without having to have the trust amended.

Who should be trustee of my Pet Trust?


The trustee needs to be an individual or corporation that you trust to manage your property prudently and make sure the beneficiary is doing a good job taking care of your pet. A family member or friend may be willing to take on these responsibilities at little or no cost.


However, if you are leaving a large amount of money to care for an animals which may outlive you for many years, it may be a better choice to select a professional trustee or corporation which has experience in managing trusts even though a trustee fee will need to be paid. As with any trust, you should name alternate trustees.

Who should be the caregiver?


The caregiver should be someone your animal knows and trusts, and who is willing to accept the responsibility. You should name at least one, preferably two or three, alternate caregivers in case your first choice cannot serve. As a final resort, you might consider naming a no-kill shelter in case none of your caregivers are able to serve when needed.

If the animal will be moved to the caregiver’s home upon your death, take some time to be sure that will work. If the proposed caregiver has their own animals, or has other people living in their home, your animals should spend some time with those animals and with those people to be sure everyone can get along harmoniously.

What happens to the trust when all my animals have died?


The Trust will stay in effect for the lifetime of your pet. After the death of all your animals, any remaining funds will go to the beneficiaries you have selected, which can be individuals or charities.  It is generally best NOT to name the caretaker as the recipient of the remaining funds. It creates a conflict when the caretaker has to choose between expensive veterinary care for your pet and receiving more money when the pet dies.


You can, and usually should, arrange for the caretaker to be paid at regular intervals while they are taking care of your animals. This arrangement best encourages good care of the pets.

Estate Planning for Pets is Essential. 


Call Sonin Law today at (530) 662-2226 for an appointment to discuss setting up a Pet Trust.

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© 2015 Barbara Sonin

DISCLAIMER: In publishing these materials, the author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional service. If legal advice is required, the service of a competent professional should be sought. No attorney-client relationship is created by the provision of this information.

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