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Animal Pragmatism: Tips for Pet Trusts

Consider the cat whose meows saved a family of five from a house fire, or the African grey parrot who got lost and recited his name and address to a helpful stranger and was reunited with his family. Pets are special, and their owners may wish to ensure that their companion animals will be well cared for even when those owners are no longer able to do so because of the owners’ illness or death. Recently the California legislature has recognized that companion animals are more than property and codified a pet trust law in section 15212 of the California Probate Code, entitled “Trusts for the care of animals.”

Formerly a pet was viewed as property, and probate laws generally did not permit a person to leave property to property. Trusts that provided for the care of a pet following an owner’s death were merely honorary and subject to the whims of the trustee. Where the trust property was significant, the deceased owner’s wishes were often dismissed by a relative who preferred to use the money for the relative’s own care and feeding.

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