California Considers Enforceable Horse Trusts

In California, legislation that provides for the judicial enforcement of trusts created by owners for the continued care of their horses has made its way to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk.

SB685, sponsored by the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SFSPCA), would repeal current law allowing trusts for domesticated or pet animals and enact new, more detailed provisions for their creation and enforcement.

Owners are increasingly seeking to ensure that their animals are cared for after the owner's death or disability. While informal arrangements with family or friends can be made, some also opt to create trusts that set aside money for the animals' care. While leaving the animal and funds for its care in a will to someone is a possibility, concerns involving enforceability, the clarity of instructions, and nagging "what if" questions (such as "what if the person I pick can't do it or their heirs don't continue to do so"), are a concern to many.

The sponsor states that this new bill ensures that those designated within the trust are protected and cared for as the owner intended and are not sent unnecessarily into the shelter system. Funds left over after the animal's life are often donated, using the trust's instructions, to animal related charities.

Normally, a human beneficiary to a trust can go to court to enforce its written terms. However, non-human beneficiaries to a trust require an advocate, and this California legislation provides for just that. The trust document can name, or the court will now be able to appoint, an "enforcer" to compel the terms of the trust. Other roles in these trusts involve a "trustee" who handles the money, and the "caretaker" who provides for the animal's day-to-day needs.

Horses are expensive to keep and live relatively long lives. One way to fund horse trusts has been to make the trust the recipient of life insurance proceeds. A typical 20 year fixed term $200,000 policy for a healthy 40 year old woman costs roughly $200 a year in fixed premiums. This also generally allows the plan for an animal's care to exist outside the owner's estate, and therefore would not be included in probate proceedings, should there be any.

Currently, these sorts of trusts are enforceable in 37 states (see below).

With more than 700,000 horses in California, some of them, along with those horse rescue organizations lucky to be named as "remainder beneficiaries" to these trusts, are bound to see the grazing ahead as just a bit more worry free.

Author James P. Harrison is an estate planning attorney who specializes in the drafting of testamentary instructions for the care of animals. He can be reached through the Web site, or by phone toll free at 877/928-7787.

States already offering enforceable trusts:

  • Alabama,
  • Alaska,
  • Arizona,
  • Arkansas,
  • Colorado,
  • Florida,
  • Hawaii,
  • Idaho,
  • Illinois,
  • Indiana,
  • Iowa,
  • Kansas,
  • Maine,
  • Massachusetts,
  • Michigan,
  • Missouri,
  • Montana,
  • Nebraska,
  • Nevada,
  • New Hampshire,
  • New Jersey,
  • New Mexico,
  • New York,
  • North Carolina,
  • North Dakota,
  • Ohio, Oregon,
  • Pennsylvania,
  • Rhode Island,
  • South Carolina,
  • South Dakota,
  • Tennessee,
  • Texas,
  • Utah,
  • Virginia,
  • Washington, and
  • Wyoming.

About the Author

James P. Harrison, Esq.

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