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By Liza Horvath


Trust laws continue to evolve


Many nights his snoring wakes me from a deep sleep. Made worse by his recent weight gain and deviated septum, I realize he can’t help the thunderous cacophony robbing me of my needed rest. When prodding him awake or rolling him over fail to silence him, I put him in the hall and close the door. After all, I have to work in the morning and, Paco, the dog, will sleep all day. 


Back in 2008, California enacted laws that allow us to set up “pet trusts” to provide for the care of our beloved pets after we are gone. Since our Paco is fundamentally disadvantaged – a puppy mill rescue that, along with his septum issue, has a pronounced under-bite,  suffers from agoraphobia and must have a monthly chiropractic adjustment to comfortably move, we made plans that should we die before he does, funds will be available to meet his special needs.


The 2008 laws let us set up a pet trust, name the trustee and state how we want our pets cared for and by whom. The present laws also allow “any person designated by the trust instrument or the court to enforce the trust, or any nonprofit charitable corporation that has as its principal activity the care of animals may, upon reasonable request, inspect the animal, the premises where the animal is maintained, or the books and records of the trust.” This means an agency like Animal Friends Rescue Project or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can get information, monitor the trustee and caregiver and otherwise make sure the pet is being taken care of as you or I intended – whether or not the agency is otherwise involved with the trust.


Apparently, lawmakers must feel that giving teeth (sorry, couldn’t resist) to charities to audit the actions of trustees and pet caregivers is not enough. Assembly Bill 1520, introduced in 2014, would allow the appointment of a guardian ad litem for pets who are beneficiaries of pet trusts. Presently, a guardian ad litem can be appointed by court to represent those who cannot speak for themselves like minor children, incapacitated persons, unborn persons and such.


Pet trusts are not difficult to administer and really – would a trustee or a pet caregiver take the job if they did not already love animals? With the exception of “Trouble,” Leona Helmsley’s cantankerous Maltese, most pets are easy to love and the trusts established for them usually diminutive, relative to most trusts. So, why the push for a guardian for Fido? Is it the money?  


Under present laws, if the SPCA or AFRP spends time “investigating” the actions of a pet trustee or caregiver, there is no provision for payment for their time and interest so their time may be better spent looking after their own wards or raising donations for their organization. If the bill is passed allowing a guardian ad litem to represent a pet-beneficiary, the law, as drafted, allows for compensation of the appointed guardian and their attorneys. Maybe it is about money.


Personally, I am on the fence about AB 1520 – I have no dog in this fight (again, sorry)! Pets should be taken care of and most pet owners are responsible – particularly in this area of California. The benefit I see is that if AB 1520 passes, we can all be sure that, if needed, our pets will be appropriately represented – deviated septum and all.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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