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  • Writer's pictureErin Riswold

Pet Trusts 101

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Can I give my property to my pet when I die?

The simple answer to this question is “no.” But there are other ways you can provide for your pet to make sure your furry friend is taken care of when you are gone.

As a starting point, you cannot give an actual gift directly to your pet when you die, because an animal cannot technically own property. This makes sense on a practical level -- even if your pooch is as smart as my Luna, a dog cannot open a bank account or buy herself food at PetSmart, although I’m sure some have tried.

So how do I provide for my pet in the event of my death?

Under California Probate Code section 15212, you create a “Pet Trust.” Instead of giving the money directly to your pet, the money must be given to a third party (human) for the care of the animal. Like a typical Trust, you are the “settlor” who puts money into the Trust. You then name a “successor trustee” to take over the Trust when you die, and you leave instructions for the successor on how to use the property.

In the case of a Pet Trust, you can designate a set amount of money to be used for the sole purpose of caring for your pet - food, toys, spa days, etc. If done correctly, the successor trustee is then bound to use that money only for the care of your pet.

Who makes sure the money is being used for Sprinkles and not some other purpose?

Section 15212(c) of the Probate Code states that the person making the Trust can name an “enforcer” who can monitor the successor trustee’s spendings. If you don’t appoint someone in your Trust, the court will appoint someone for you. Additionally, the trustee might be required to provide periodic accountings to future beneficiaries of the Trust. This is another way that the Probate Code ensures your Pet Trustee is being honest.

Can a “Pet Trust” be combined with the Trust I already have?

Yes. A “Pet Trust” can be part of your regular estate planning Trust, which distributes the rest of your property to family or friends or charitable organizations. You can simply insert a clause in your Trust which provides for your pet. If you don’t have a Trust yet, find out if a Living Trust might be the right estate planning tool for you by clicking here.

How do I make sure my Pet Trust is valid?

You must follow the specific legal formalities of making a Trust instrument, like all other estate planning documents. To make sure you are doing it right, you should consult with an estate planning lawyer.


The information in this blog is intended only as general information, and under no circumstances constitutes legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. The information should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice concerning your particular situation.

For advice specific to your situation, contact us to schedule an appointment.

About the Koons & Riswold Law Office

Koons & Riswold maintains an office in Davis, CA and Auburn, CA to provide clients with legal services in Auburn, Davis, and the surrounding areas. Our Auburn and Davis lawyers provide legal services, which include: Living Trust and Estate Planning services, Probate, Elder Planning, and Trust and Estate Administration. Our lawyers have deep roots in Northern California, having strong familial, community, and professional ties to the region.

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