Pets and Estate Planning

Can a pet be included in my estate plan?

For many, an estate plan creates peace of mind. A sound estate plan ensures that an individual’s assets and property will be managed and dispersed as he or she wishes after death. An estate plan can also put to rest any qualms about a person’s final health care wishes should they become incapacitated. Estate planning allows you to provide for those closest to you when you are no longer able to do so. But what about our four-legged, feathered, or other creatures that so many of us consider being part of the family – will your pets be cared for properly after you die? A recent story in the Monterey County Herald, poses the question of what happens to a pet after ‘their person’ dies.

Most states, including California, have a pet trust law on the books. Basically, this allows an individual to set up a trust for the care of his or her domestic animal or pet for the life of that animal.

Memorialize your pet bequest

Pet owners want to ensure that their pet will be well cared for by a trusted family member or friend or sometimes an organization. While informal discussions with the party that is willing to take in your pet are a good idea – formalizing the ‘agreement’ by a bequest in your will creates clarity for your bipedal loved ones.

In some instances, people may not have a family member that is willing or able to care for a pet. Pet owners instead opt to leave their animal companions with a dependable animal organization. Often times a pet bequest is coupled with a monetary bequest to the pet shelter.

Over-the-top pet trust

A notorious pet trust that made headlines in 2007 was Leona Helmsley’s 12 million dollar trust that she left to her dog, Trouble. Mrs. Helmsley snubbed some family members in her will and opted to leave a sizeable chunk of her fortune to her Maltese dog. A judge later reduced the 12 million dollar trust to 2 million dollars – this still allowed Trouble to live a not-so-troubled life. Trouble’s yearly budget for grooming was 8,000 dollars and 1,200 dollars for dog food. Because the dog received death threats – there was also a security team that protected her. The price tag for protecting Trouble was 100,000 dollars per year. The rich dog died in 2010. The remainder of the money left in the dog’s trust reverted to a charitable trust set up by Mrs. Helmsley and her late husband.

Estate planning in California

The Law Office of Mark Abell is experienced in all estate planning aspects. We create and customize your estate plan to suit your needs – including incorporating your wishes to ensure your pet is cared for in the event you no longer can. We are also able to assist you in updating your existing estate plan. If you want to discuss or have questions regarding your personal estate plan, contact California estate planning attorney, Mark Abell, today at 310-489-0707 or