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Provision in Will to Kill the Cat Found Invalid

If a pet owner puts a request in her will that the pet be put to death, should a court respect the request?  Not necessarily.  In 2012, a Chicago judge reversed a death sentence that had been hanging over Boots the cat for months.  The feline’s owner, Georgia Lee Dvorak, died at age 76, leaving no survivors, and Dvorak's will, written in 1988, included a provision directing that any cat or cats she owned at the time of her death be euthanized "in a painless, peaceful manner." 

But trust officers at Fifth Third Bank, which was appointed to manage Dvorak’s $1.4 million estate, were reluctant to follow through on the will’s terms when it came to Boots, age 11. 

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The bank asked a Cook County (Chicago) probate court to set aside that provision of Dvorak’s will.  In its arguments to the judge, the bank noted that Dvorak had left the the bulk of her estate to twelve animal-related charitable organizations.  They also cited legal precedents in which courts had spared other animals in similar legal predicaments, including two Irish setters in Pennsylvania who had been ordered destroyed in their owner’s will, and horses in Vermont and Canada that had been similarly condemned.

The judge allowed the bank to search for a suitable home for Boots to live out the remainder of her life. Twenty-seven people were interested in adopting Boots, and the lucky new owner was a cousin of the bank employee who was instrumental in saving Boots.  

In its fact sheet "Providing for Your Pet's Future Without You," the Humane Society of the United States warns that when a pet owner puts a request in a will that an animal be put to death, “that provision is often ruled invalid by the legal system when the animal is young or in good health and when other humane alternatives are available.”

For more on including a pet in an estate plan, click here.


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