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What Happens to My Dog After I Die?

Carrie Fisher, the writer and actress remembered by millions of fans as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films, passed away in late 2016. A number of stories published after Fisher’s death mentioned her French bulldog, Gary, a service animal who helped her cope with bipolar disorder. To the relief of many fans, Fisher’s daughter took custody of Gary.

Creating a Pet Trust

Unfortunately, many pets are simply abandoned or forgotten after their owners die. Some people just assume a family member will assume responsibility for a pet, but that is often not the case. This is why it is important to include your pet in your estate planning.

At the outset, it is important to understand that as far as the law is concerned, your beloved dog or cat is personal property, not a member of the family. While you have probably heard stories about people leaving their estates to their pet, that is not a legal option. You cannot leave money to your pet.

What you can do is leave money to a human being for the care of your pet after you die. California law recognizes such pet trusts as a valid estate planning tool. Basically, a pet trust names a trustee to manage any funds you provide for the care of your pet after you die. The trust also names a caregiver to take physical custody of the animal. The trust should also specify what to do with any leftover funds after the pet dies.

You can create a pet trust as part of your will, but keep in mind that will only take effect after you die. It can take several weeks or months to probate a will in California. If you want to avoid any delay or uncertainty with respect to your pet’s care, it is best to create a separate pet trust that takes effect while you are still alive. (Essentially, you serve as the trustee until you die.)

Avoiding Euthanasia

If you have no immediate family or close friends who can take care of your pet, you might think it is more humane to have the animal euthanized when you die. Some people even specify a pet’s euthanasia in their will. This is a legally questionable practice. In fact, California probate courts have refused to enforce such clauses as an affront to public policy.

A better alternative if you can not locate a suitable caretaker for your pets is to work with a local nonprofit organization that specializes in placing animals for adoption. For instance, the San Diego Humane accepts dogs, cats, and other small animals for adoption. The Humane Society does not euthanize healthy animals, so you know your pet will be well cared for. You can name the Humane Society or a similar group as the recipient of your pet in your will or trust.

As with all estate planning decisions, the care of your pet is not something you should leave to chance. An experienced San Diego estate planning lawyer can assist you with making a pet trust or other arrangements for your four-legged friends. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady to schedule a consultation today.

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