If you're a pet owner, the thought of what will happen to your pet when you're no longer able to care for it might have crossed your mind at least a couple of times. Where will your "firstborn" or "fur baby" live?
Moral Obligation vs. Legal Obligation
While planning for your human loved ones, it isn't difficult to plan for your furry loved ones too. Years ago in Hawaii, if you left a provision in your will that left your pet and some money to a caregiver, the provision was viewed as a mere request as opposed to a command. The provision was looked at as a moral obligation as opposed to a legal one. This means that the caregiver could drop your pet off at the animal shelter or on the side of the road for that matter, and take the money and run.
Statutory Pet Trust
In 2005, the Hawaii legislature joined other states in enacting a statutory scheme, essentially a statutory pet trust created via a will, that turned the request from honorary to a requirement. This means that you can include a provision in your will to give your pet to a responsible caregiver of your choosing and the caregiver will have a legal duty to spend funds on your pet's care if you so choose. Of course, the caregiver could refuse the gift of your pet and funds, which is why it is important to name back up beneficiaries and speak to the potential caregiver while you're alive.
Amount of Assets to Leave Your Pet
You might wonder how much property (i.e. cash) to leave for your pet's care. A good rule of thumb is to base this amount on the life expectancy of your pet plus the level of care required (i.e. food, vet bills, etc.). I'm not suggesting that you leave a fortune for your pet, but perhaps a few thousand dollars might be adequate to get your pet through the last few years of its life. Of course, some people do leave fortunes. Leona Helmsley, the "Queen of Mean," famously left her 12-year-old Maltese named "Trouble" a $12 million dollar fortune. A judge eventually reduced that amount to $2 million after the stipulation was contested and it was determined that Helmsley was mentally unfit when the will was created. Still, $2 million was more than adequate to pay the caregiver, full-time security guard, and buy an endless supply of crab cakes, which was part of Trouble's usual diet.
Stand-Alone Pet Trust
Besides providing for your pet in your will, another option is to create a traditional stand-alone pet trust. A traditional stand-alone pet trust shares many of the same features as the statutory scheme created by the Hawaii Legislature in 2005. For example, both require the caregiver to use funds as directed (i.e. for your pet's care) and an enforcer can be designated to ensure that your pet is being cared for as well as funds are being spent properly.
Will vs. Trust
A disadvantage of providing for your pet in your will is that assets in a will must be probated, which can take many months or longer. In the interim, there might not be anyone caring for your pet while assets are sold (i.e. a house) so that funds can be made available for your pet's care. A traditional stand-alone pet trust has the advantage of taking effect upon your death and avoids probate. Another advantage is that since a trust is valid during your lifetime as well as upon your death, if you become incapacitated, the trust can take effect. A trust can also disperse funds over the lifetime of your pet as opposed to all at once.
Contact Us — An Experienced Honolulu Estate Planning Law Firm
So can you leave your house to your pet in Hawaii? Pets are generally viewed as property under the eyes of the law so it defies logic for property to own property. Thus, if you do leave your house to your pet, word the provision in your will or the language in your trust in such a way that the house is left for your pet's benefit as opposed to directly to your pet. Get started with your pet planning by contacting us today.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
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