Leaving money to pets in your Will is not as uncommon as you might think. In fact lots of people,
especially the elderly, want to make sure that watch dog Fido, or lap cat Fluffy, are well taken care after they are gone.
Leona Helmsley, the late 87-year-old real estate investor, set aside $12 million in her Will for the care of her beloved Maltese. A lot of people found the very idea to be absurd, but for those who loved animals, it was encouraging.
Your cat cannot serve as an executor in your Will, and you cannot make your dog a direct beneficiary.
If you try to bestow money to your Jack Russell Terrier, such a bequest will most likely be overturned.
However, you can place money into a special trust fund to carry out the care you wish, if pet trusts are recognized in your state.
The California Probate Code provides that a person can create a trust fund for the care of a designated domestic pet or animal for the life of the animal, and provides that animal care trusts will be presumed to be valid. This law also has strong provisions for enforcement of the trust and goes a long way in helping pet owners set up trusts that really benefit their animals.
Trust funds can include a wide range of assets, including cash, stocks, bonds, or any other type of financial instrument. The trust fund may be managed by a single trustee, or be structured to allow for more than one trustee. It is the responsibility of the trustee to see that the resources included in the trust fund are used in the best interests of the recipient of the trust. The main idea behind a trust fund is to allow the grantor who established the fund to rest assured that loved ones will receive the benefit of the estate after the grantor dies.
One should try to choose a trusted friend or family member to serve as the trustee of the assets you set aside for the care of your companion animal. It’s also a good idea to assign a co-trustee so they can make sure the funds are being spent in accordance with your wishes. You should also choose an alternate trustee in case one of the co-trustees pass away before your pet.
Make sure the people who will be serving as trustees understand they’ll be legally responsible to make sure the money is spent on your pet, and not on themselves. Also make sure they respect the idea that your pet trust is not just a request, but is a legally enforceable trust that makes the pet the primary beneficiary.
If you don’t have a relative or friend to take care of your pet, you may leave your bequest of money to an animal care facility, or kennel, in exchange for the lifelong care of your pet.
You might also want to consider including a provision in your Will that leaves the balance of any money,
after the animal dies, to a specific charity. If someone tries to challenges the will, they’ll not only have to fight your estate for the money, but the charity you’ve named as well.
To make sure your precious pet receives the care you want after you’re gone, be sure to use the services of a competent estate planning attorney.