While I was growing up, we almost always had a dog (or two) in the house, and they always became treasured family members. You may have had the same experience, and you would not be alone if you have pets today that you consider to be your “children.” I know people who claim to prefer their kitties over their kiddies.
So what happens to your four-legged family members if you become incapacitated, or if you die? Are you comfortable leaving their fate to chance, or do you want to take steps to provide for their well-being for the rest of their natural lives? Believe it or not, Hawai‘i law allows you to create trusts for your hairy household members.
Section 560:7-501 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes specifically allows you to create trusts “for the care of one or more domestic or pet animals.” You can even designate a human watchdog who will make sure that your intentions are carried out. In theory, there would be nothing to prevent your terrier’s trustee from making a quick stop at the local dog pound and then pocketing the trust assets that you had intended to be used for your poor pet. However, your watchdog could whisk the trustee in front of a judge and make sure the trustee is held accountable for failing to honor your wishes. Of course, if you choose the right caretaker in the first place, none of this will be an issue.
But what if your two-legged children get jealous of your basset hound’s bequest? Is there a way for them to attack your trust? The short answer is “yes,” and if they can convince a judge that you have left “too much” for your toucan, the judge can reduce the amount in the trust to whatever amount is “enough” to provide adequately for the care, maintenance, health and appearance of the designated critter. In any event, if there is anything left when your pooch passes the pearly gates, you get to say where it goes.
Some pets have very long lifespans, such as certain birds, reptiles and fish. Your pet trust will not be subject to the rules that limit the lifespans of conventional trusts, so you can be sure that, as long as the trust assets hold out, there will be provisions for your pet.
Another consideration that should go into your zoological estate plan is choosing who will provide the day-to-day care for your pets. Some animals bond closely with one human and are extremely persnickety about whose company they keep. When you are gone, someone could end up with a very irritable iguana. Hopefully, you have someone waiting in the wings to become the manager of your menagerie. Your passing is not a matter of “if” but “when,” and you should be brutally honest with yourself when choosing to bring a pet into your home and evaluating the future implications of that choice.
Scott Makuakane, Counselor at Law
Focusing exclusively on estate planning and trust law.
Watch Scott’s TV show, Malama Kupuna
Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on KWHE, Oceanic channel 11