Just as we plan for our children's future, our pets need a plan so they can be taken care of too. Hans Ramm and his daughter Eva play with the family pet, Oscar, who was adopted from the Hawaiian Humane Society.

A will or trust can
provide for your pet

Although 54 percent of Oahu households have a pet, the AARP reports that less than 30 percent of Americans with pets have wills that provide for them. No matter what your age or health, it's always best to be prepared should misfortune strike. A will or living trust offers the peace of mind that your pet will be looked after according to your wishes.

There are two ways in which pet owners can ensure their pets are provided for. A will provides legal documentation of your wishes and intent. A living trust appoints trustees to manage your estate and carry out your wishes.

Without a will or living trust, the fate of treasured belongings and your companion animals is left to the court system to determine how assets will be evaluated and debts paid off. The process can be time-consuming and might leave your animal without proper care.

There are several choices to help in the transition of your pet to a new guardian. Permanent guardianship designates someone to care for your pet for the duration of its life. Temporary guardians care for a pet only until an adoptive home is found. A permanent adoption can be made through an organization such as the Hawaiian Humane Society. Whatever your preference, the will or trust needs to be specific.

"Permanent guardianship is the best alternative for the animal companion as long as you select the proper guardian in advance," said Janet Hyrne, director of development for the Hawaiian Humane Society. Relatives, friends or a pet-owning acquaintance can be good caregivers, but there are other factors to consider: travel schedule, housing rules regarding pets, work hours, finances and health. The person who accepts guardianship must have the means and a willingness to take on the full gamut of responsibilities.

Adopting a pet is a joyful moment that lasts for the animal's lifetime. Since dogs live 12 to 20 years, this teenager could have her new puppy as part of the family until she is 30 years old. In cases when it is possible for a pet to outlive its owner, plans for the animal's care should be outlined in a legal document to ensure its continued well-being.

ONCE SOMEONE is selected and agrees to care for the pet, arrangements should be documented in a will or trust. The legal document should include the name of the pet's chosen caregiver, what action he or she must take (whether to keep the pet permanently or find a new home) and the specific amount of money left for the pet's needs.

Since money cannot be left directly to your feathered or furry heir, it must be left to someone you have confidence in. To provide checks and balances, the Hawaiian Humane Society suggests that one person or organization be responsible for the finances in addition to the caregiver.

"After establishing the arrangements, pet owners should also remember to keep their will or trust up to date with current information," Hyrne said. "The legal document should periodically re-evaluate who you've designated as a guardian just to make sure that person is still the best option, and to reaffirm their willingness to take on such an important role."

To ease the transition for pet and guardian, pet profile forms are available at the Hawaiian Humane Society. Information on the pet's behavior, medical history, favorite toys, special diet needs and other details can be listed to help the caregiver learn about the pet. The profile form, along with a copy of the will or living trust, should be given to your chosen caregiver to ensure they are aware of what they've agreed to.

The humane society can assist with notifying the intended guardian, family members and friends, ensuring your wishes are made known. When more people know a pet owner's plans, the transition is easier.

In addition to providing for their own animals, animal lovers can make a bequest, or gift, in their will or trust to their favorite animal-related charity. Because Hawaii's humane societies are each independent and receive no funding from national or state organizations, donations provide food, shelter and adoption services, as well as education and advocacy.

HERE ARE STEPS to take now for your pet's future:

» Request a "Legacy of Caring" packet from the Hawaiian Humane Society and fill out the forms.

» Select someone you trust who has agreed to be a permanent or temporary guardian for your pet. You should be confident that this person will spend the money in accordance with your wishes and can be trusted to properly care for your pet.

» Create a will or living trust and be clear about your wishes, including your pets' names, the guardian's name and the amount of money left for the pets' care.

» Give a copy to your family and your chosen guardian.

» If you have designated a shelter to assist you with your trust or bequest, send a copy to your island's humane society and request confirmation of receipt. They will keep it on file and be prepared in the event that your animal is surrendered to their care.

Establishing a will or living trust is a fundamental way to ensure the well-being of loved ones. It also allows people to continue giving to and supporting their favorite nonprofit organizations. Legal documents like these certify that final wishes are upheld and that family members and pets are given the proper care that they deserve.

For more information, call Janet Hyrne at 946-2187, ext. 221.

"Pet Ohana" runs the first and third Fridays of the month. The Hawaiian Humane Society is a nonprofit agency dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals. They are at 2700 Waialae Ave.

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