Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

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Providing for Pets in Your Estate Plan

Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012 by John S. Palmer

A recent case in Illinois illustrates the wisdom of making smart choices for pets in your estate plan. Georgia Lee Dvorak died recently at age 76; her Will specifically required that any cats she owned at the time of her death be euthanized, because she believed finding a home for them would be impossible.

The executors of her estate had to go to court and obtain an order authorizing them to place Ms. Dvorak’s 11-year old cat with a no-kill shelter, and to make a donation of $1,000 from the estate to the shelter. (The executors agreed to forego $1,000 in fees to bring the total donation to $2,000). They took this action because they believed Ms. Dvorak would not want her cat euthanized, if possible. (She left most of her $1.4 million estate to pet-related causes).

The time and expense of going to court to accomplish this could have been avoided had Ms. Dvorak worded her Will differently. For one thing, the Will was 24 years old, back when pet trusts were not allowed. If a pet trust is not a viable option (e.g., because you lack the resources to fund it), then it would be smarter to make a more flexible provision for pets in your Will, such as permitting the executor of your estate to look for an appropriate home for them before resorting to euthanasia.

If you have a specific person lined up to take your pets, it is a good idea to make sure the bequest includes future pets you may acquire, if possible. For example, rather than specifying that you leave your current dog Fido to your friend Jane, it may be more appropriate to direct that she inherits “any dog(s) I may own at the time of my death.” You could also name Jane as the trustee of a pet trust established by your Will to help pay for the care of any dogs she inherits.

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Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056