An Aurora, Indiana woman recently made an unusual request in her Last Will and Testament – a request that has turned into a national debate on social media sites. Among the terms of her Will, Connie Ley asked that her German shepherd, Bela, be euthanized and buried with her. At the time of her death, Bela was a healthy nine year old dog, causing her request to ignite a heated legal and moral debate over her right to make the request. While you may not have any desire to make such a request in your Will, the controversy over Bela does bring up an important estate planning issue – Is your pet an estate asset and, if so, can you decide what happens to your pet after your death?
The terms of Ley’s Will specifically asked that Bela be transported to Best Friends Animal Society’s no-kill sanctuary in southern Utah after Ley’s death; however, if the costs associated with carrying out that request were prohibitive, Ley asked a friend to take guardianship of Bela and then fulfill her request to euthanize the dog. Ley apparently made the request because she did not trust the dog to be around other people as he has a history of aggressive behavior. While this may explain the reason behind the request, many people want to know if Ley even had the legal right to make such a request.
As Ley’s estate planning attorney has pointed out, Bela is part of Ley’s estate. While animal lovers across the country may consider the family dog, cat, or other animal to be a part of the family, the law considers an animal to be an asset. From a legal perspective this means you have the right to direct what will happen to your family pet after you die just as you would dictate what should happen to your home, your vehicle, or your bank account. Therefore, Bela’s fate now lies with the Executor of Ley’s Will.
The Executor of your Will is charged with overseeing the probate of your estate. As part of that process, all estate assets must be accounted for and ultimately disposed of according to the terms of your Will. In Bela’s case, the Executor of Ley’s Will must now decide what will happen to Bela. Given the public outcry over the request to euthanize Bela it seems clear that the funds necessary to transport Bela to Utah will no longer be a hurdle to fulfilling Ley’s original request. Ultimately, however, the Executor (who has remained anonymous) has the legal authority to decide Bela’s fate. For now, Bela is being housed in a special kennel at PAWS of Dearborn County Humane Center in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
If you have questions about pet planning in your Texas estate plan, contact the experienced Texas estate planning attorneys at The Mendel Law Firm, L.P. by calling 281-759-3213 to schedule your appointment today.