There seems to be some confusion nowadays about whether “a dog’s life” refers to a life of ease or toil, but for these wealthy canine heirs life is definitely the former! Whether it’s a wealthy eccentric leaving millions to a dear canine companion or whether it’s a lover of animals leaving a portion of their estate to charity, more and more dogs (and other animals) are being included in wills and trusts.
Naming your pet in your will or trust may seem odd, but it’s perfectly legitimate. Unfortunately, disinherited family members may not always agree. When Leona Helmsley passed away in 2007 she left $12 million to her dog, Trouble, but that amount was reduced by Judge Renee Roth of the Manhattan Surrogate Court to a mere $2 million. The current canine court battle is over the will of Miami heiress Gail Posner, which leaves $3 million to her dog Conchita, as well as $26 million split between seven of her bodyguards, housekeepers and other personal aides.
Naming your pet in your will may be perfectly legitimate, but the truth is that there is nothing to stop disgruntled family members from contesting your wishes. If you choose to do something “unusual” in your will or trust, or if you know of family members who are likely to make trouble, it may be necessary to take extra precautions to ensure your wishes are followed. For example, California permits the creation of a Pet Trust, either as part of your “Living” Trust or as a stand-alone document. Inform your estate planning attorney of the potential conflict and discuss what steps can be taken to prevent it. In some cases “no contest clauses” can be added to a will or trust to discourage court battles. In other cases a simple meeting of all family members with your attorney to explain your wishes and reasoning will do the trick. Talk to your attorney to find out what can be done to keep the peace in your family—canine or human.