Monday, March 16, 2009

Protecting Your Pets In California

Estate Planning For Your Pet?

Although Leona Helmsely giving her beloved Maltese named Trouble $12 million (while leaving her late son's children nothing) got national attention and practically became a national joke, there is the issue of what happens when our pets outlive us. For many, their pets are part of their families. Some pets, like parrots, have very long life-spans. Last year, in July 2008, California's permissive pet trust statute was amended with a more modern statute with enforceable provisions. See California Probate Code Section 15212. As pet owners, we can certainly relate to some of our clients' wishes to plan for the future care of their pets.

California Probate Code Section 15212

Here is a summary of this relatively new statute:

■ A trust for the care of an animal is deemed to be for a "lawful noncharitable purpose."

■ "Animal" is broadly defined to include pets of any type as well as domestic animals.

■ The trust terminates when the last animal dies that was alive when the settlor died (unless the settlor provided otherwise in the trust instrument).

■ The court must liberally construe the trust. Extrinsic evidence is admissible to ascertain the settlor's intent.

■ Trust funds may be used only for the benefit of the animal unless the trust instrument provides otherwise.

■ When the trust ends, the balance of the trust property passes (1) according to the terms of the trust (i.e., to the remainder beneficiaries), (2) if none and the settlor created the trust in a non-residuary will clause, under the residuary clause, or (3) in other cases, to the settlor's heirs.

■ The settlor may name a trust enforcer in the trust. The court may appoint a trust enforcer.

■ Anyone interested in the welfare of the animal and any nonprofit charitable organization that has as its principal activity the care of animals may petition the court to enforce the trust.

■ If the settlor did not name a trust or if the named trust is unable or unwilling to serve, the court must appoint a trustee.

■ Accountings must be given to the remainder beneficiaries (or those who would take upon the death of the animal) as well as to any nonprofit charitable corporation that has as its principal activity the care of animals and has made a written request for accountings.

■ Trusts with property valued at $40,000 or less are exempt from accountings, filings, reportings, and other requirements which normally apply to trusts under California law.

■ Upon a reasonable request, the animal and the trust records may be inspected by any beneficiary, the trust enforcer, or a nonprofit charitable corporation that has as its principal activity the care of animals.

How Your Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

As noted above, the laws of the state of California allow for trusts for the care of pets or domestic animals for the life of the animal. We will work with you to design the legal documents to take advantage of these laws for your pet’s protection. Proper planning can provide for the care of your pets not only in the event of death, but also for incapacity or temporary emergencies. Planning can lead to peace of mind, so you can rest assured that your pets will be cared for in the way that you desire.

You can provide directions regarding your pet’s medical conditions, health care, exercise needs, dietary needs, preferred veterinarian, and burial. Provisions for immediate access to your home for caregivers can be made. You can also appoint a different person to oversee the ongoing care of your pets to ensure that the caregiver is treating your pet in the manner that you set out in the trust.

Posted by Henry (Hank) J. Morevec III. With respect to estate planning and pets, Hank Moravec has over 20 years' experience as one of the best Los Angeles estate and trust attorneys and Los Angeles pet trust and is available should you need legal advice regarding your own or a family member's situation. He is also a devoted pet owner and understands the needs of his clients to take care of their pets in their estate planning.

For a consultation, You can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 to request a consultation. The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/. The firm is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108. There is ample free parking adjacent to the firm's office.

The office is located in San Marino, California, a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel area located 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The firm represents clients throughout California and its attorneys engage in estate planning for clients throughout Southern California.