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Make sure your pets are cared for after your death

Ask a new acquaintance if they have any children, and it isn't unusual to hear answers such as these.

"I have four children: two two-leggeds and two four-leggeds."

"I have three fur babies."

Yes, for many people, Fluffy and Fido are their children.

We wrote recently in the blog about naming a guardian for your children - the two-legged variety -- in California. But what would happen to your pets if something happened to you?

While you think of your animals as people, the law doesn't. They are property - just like your stamp collection. So, to make sure your pets are properly cared for in the event of your death, it is appropriate to include them in your estate plan.

The first thing you should do is decide who you would like to care for your pets - and then ask that person to consent to care for them.

Once you and your pet guardian have agreed, it's time to put it in writing. That can be done through a will or a specific pet trust. Each offers plusses and minuses.

Your will

You simply can state, "I leave my cat, Fluffy, to my neighbor, Jill Jones." This is enforceable by law.

However, there is nothing to prevent Jill from giving Fluffy away if she finds pet ownership is more than she can handle. And if you've left money to care for Fluffy, Jill can keep the funds.

This agreement is best if you know and trust the caretaker of your pet well.

Pet trust

That is a more formal document that not only identifies your pet's caretaker but also states the type of care you request and names a trustee who will manage any money you might leave for the pet's care.

The trustee's duty will be to distribute funds to the caregiver for expenses such as veterinary bills, medications, food and other costs. Should you anticipate there could be money left in the fund after the pet's passing, you can specify how that money should be distributed. It is important that you write out how you have come to the calculation of how much money you are leaving for the pet in case there are any questions down the road.

You will want your pet to be well-cared for. A California attorney can help you accomplish that mission through your will or a pet trust.

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