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Death sentence for pets not a good estate planning option

Readers in King County may recall a previous post on this blog discussing estate planning options that provide for pets who outlive their owners. A recent court decision regarding a woman's will highlights the importance of thoughtful estate planning to avoid leaving pets stranded in the complexity of the probate process.

The elderly woman's will included a directive that her cat be euthanized after the woman's death, but the trustees of the her estate balked at the idea. When the trustees asked the probate court to invalidate the will provision, they called attention to the fact that the woman dedicated most of her $1.4 million estate to animal welfare organizations.

Fortunately, the trustees identified a shelter to take the woman's cat. The probate court agreed with the trustees' argument that public policy demanded overturning the death sentence provision of the woman's will. Unfortunately, the need to litigate over the fate of the woman's cat undoubtedly drained estate assets that could have gone to provide care for the cat or help fund one of the animal welfare organizations named as a beneficiary.

Estate planning options such as trusts and guardianship programs can help make sure that pets receive proper care after their owners have passed away. When pet owners neglect to make plans for the care of their animal companions, pets may end up in the hands of heirs unwilling to take on the responsibility of care. For these reasons, King County animal lovers will want to consider whether their estate plans address the future welfare of their four-legged family members.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Court overturns order in woman's will to put her cat to death," Becky Yerak, April 4, 2012

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