California Riding Magazine • July, 2008

Horse Trusts
Upcoming legislation supports a reassuring
way to leave your horse in good hands.

by James P. Harrison

If you want to leave your horse to a friend, along with the funds to care for it, a Horse Trust may be the answer. Ann H., a healthy, single 46-year-old woman, boards Captain, her 8-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, in Palo Alto. To ensure that Captain will always be looked after, Ann had her attorney, in this case me, draft instructions for the creation of a trust for her horse’s care should she predecease him. Ann also purchased a life insurance policy on herself to fund the trust.
“I see it as part of responsible horse ownership,” says Ann. “If I die, I’d like to see Captain go to my horse-riding friend without her ever having to bear the cost for his care.”

A Horse Trust is similar to a regular revocable living trust one would write for the care of an orphaned child except that the trust’s beneficiary is a horse, which becomes part of the trust’s property along with the funds set aside to care for it. Ann named a trusted horse-riding friend to be Captain’s caretaker, along with another friend who agreed to be back-up caretaker. She chose me to be the trustee to manage the trust’s money to pay for Captain’s care.

Ann purchased a fixed term insurance policy that pays out $200,000 if she were to die in the next 20 years. Her fixed cost premium is less than $300 a year. Should there be funds left over after Captain passes away, she named the University of California Davis Center for Equine Health as the trust’s remainder beneficiary to receive whatever is left and to be used however it sees fit.

Horse owners can transfer their horse to rescue organizations or a retirement community if the owner leaves a bequest to that organization. A Horse Trust allows the horse to be cared for by designated friends and permits the horse to remain where it currently lives. “The Center for Equine Health at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine encourages the owners of horses, and companion animals in general, to include in their testamentary instructions a plan for their animals’ care,” says Dr. Gregory L. Ferraro, Director of the Center for Equine Health.

Ferraro notes that there are currently many organizations, including the Center for Equine Health, that provide assistance to individuals interested in developing trusts for the benefit of horses.

The California Legislature is working on legislation this year to make animal trusts more enforceable. Senate Bill 685, sponsored by the San Francisco SPCA, permits the individual making the trust to name an “enforcer” granting them power to petition the local court for the trust’s enforcement. Additionally, to ensure the enforcement of these legal documents, SB685 permits any person interested in the welfare of the animal, or any nonprofit charitable organization whose principal activity is the care of animals, to petition the court regarding a trust. SB685 has broad support and is expected to become law at the end of the year.

Author James P. Harrison is an attorney from Sacramento who manages Horse Trusts. He can be reached through the website, or by phone toll free at 877-928-7787.