The members of McDowall Cotter are animal lovers and most of us are pet owners, so we take the care of pets seriously. We know that many of you in San Mateo County, Santa Clara County and throughout California are devoted pet owners. Whether the pet is a parrot, a dog, a cat, a hamster, a horse or other furry critters, we love them and care for them.

    In addition to their daily needs, we also worry about what will happen to our pets if we leave the planet before they do. This article explores options available to us pet lovers in such an event.

    You can establish a Pet Trust for your current and future pets. California Probate Code Section 15212 provides the legal authority for Pet Trusts. As with most trusts, you need certain ingredients: A pet, current or future; funds to contribute to the trust; a person or trust department to manage the funds for the benefit of your pet; a custodian or guardian to take care of your pet, and; instructions to the Trustee and guardian for the care of your pet.

    A classic example of a Pet Trust was brought to us by the “Queen of Mean”, Leona Helmsley. While this multi-billionaire was known for her cruelty to her employees, she loved her dog Trouble so much that she left him with a Pet Trust of $12 million which the New York court eventually reduced to $2 million. Nonetheless, Trouble was able to get by in Florida living the good life for the rest of his days.

    Pet trusts aren’t for every pet. Such a trust is typically part of a Revocable Living Trust or Will and the Pet Trusts springs into existences when the pet owner dies. They require the appointment of a Trustee, accounting for the funds to consider the use of a pet trust in circumstances where the pet owner has significant funds to devote to the pet trust and there is a strong desire on the part of the pet owner to have a formalized plan in place for the pet(s) in the event of the pet owner’s death.

    An alternative to a formal pet trust is an ‘informal’ Pet Trust. For instances, leaving a sum of money to a friend or relative you known will care for the pet with a request that they take care of the pet can work well.

    A pet owner can also make advance arrangements with a local animal shelter or other non-profit pet group that have continuing care programs for our pets. This type of arrangement can be put in place with the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in San Mateo, the San Francisco SPCA, the Humane Society or  organizations such as Cat Town in Oakland. You can check the websites of these organizations or call them to learn more about their programs (links are provided below). Generally, the organization will see to the fostering of your pet until a permanent home is found. Enrollment in the program and an annual or per-arranged donation is usually how to become a member of a continuing care program. In your Revocable Living Trust or Will, you will want to confirm your enrollment in the continuing care plan and probably leave a monetary donation to the organization sponsoring the program. Each of these organizations also have Planned Giving Programs for those who may not need a continuing care program but want to leave a monetary donation in their will or trust documents.

    If you are interested in exploring the use of a Pet Trust or establishing your own estate plan, please feel free to contact us. Want to learn more? Watch our vlog “Bow Wow Meow: Planning for Our Beloved Pets” hosted by attorneys Jennifer Emmaneel and Robert Vale here: https://vimeo.com/452336190. 

    Should you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to consult with one of our attorneys at McDowall Cotter by giving us a call at 650-572-7933. The accomplished attorneys of McDowall Cotter work in civil litigation, business services, and estate planning and are located in San Mateo. Our experienced and knowledgeable staff will be able to help you with any of your needs or concerns. Additionally, you can find McDowall Cotter on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn @McDowallCotter.

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