Trust-fund Fidos

Our view: When a doting owner dies, God bless the pet that's got his own

March 03, 2009

For millions of devoted dog and cat lovers, the animals in their care are cherished as members of the family. But that's not how the law in Maryland treats pets when their owners die. Unlike human relatives, pets have no legal claim to a share of the estate, and owners can't even ensure they'll be treated humanely by their designated guardians.

So leave it to two dog- and cat-loving lawmakers, Republican Del. A. Wade Kach and Democratic Del. John A. Olszewski Jr., both of Baltimore County, to come up with a bill that would allow pet owners to establish trust funds for the furry and feathered friends who survive them. Given today's contentious partisan divides, it's encouraging to see the animal kingdom rekindle cooperation across the aisle.

The measure would enable courts to enforce the terms of trusts established to care for pets and to ensure the funds were used as the deceased intended - within reason, of course. Capricious or eccentric owners couldn't leave millions to a beloved pooch, as hotel queen Leona Helmsley tried to do for her Maltese fuzzball, Trouble; the bill limits bequests to what is necessary for an animal's care, and it empowers judges to award the rest to other heirs.

Though nearly two-thirds of American households have pets, many people never consider what would happen to their faithful companions if they should die or become too incapacitated to care for them.

Delegates Kach and Olszewski's proposal would bring Maryland in line with a national trend toward making pet care part of estate planning, which is now allowed by 39 states and the District of Columbia. Fido may not be able to inherit the beach condo or the Jag, but surely man's best friend ought to be able to count on kibbles and a roof over his head after his master departs this Earth.

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