Q: I have a German Shepherd named Mollie and am also the mother of two adult children. I would like my daughter to take Mollie if I predecease the dog. Should I specify this in the will? Or is it enough that my daughter and son know my wishes?
A: Lawyers who prepare wills must make sure that your last wishes are enforceable. While not every detail needs to be put in your will, ask yourself: Am I comfortable that my heirs understand my wishes or do I need to be more specific to avoid trouble? How you answer that question is, in part, due to other considerations. For instance, who will pay for Mollie’s care? Since you can’t leave money directly to Mollie in your will, it might be best to set aside a sum for this purpose. A good way to do this is to set up a trust in your will, where money for Mollie’s care is held. Consider the trust a treasure chest. You put $20,000 into the chest for Mollie’s care and appoint a trustee to the treasure chest, say your daughter. The trustee can then take money out for Mollie’s needs. You can also appoint a person as the trustee for the trust—someone who manages the money—and another as Mollie’s caregiver. These two people would then work together to make sure Mollie’s needs are met. This is what Leona Hemsley, the hotel heiress, did for her dog Trouble. She set aside $12 million in a trust and appointed a trustee. But her heirs contested the will and after a court battle, a judge ruled that the amount was unnecessary and reduced the trust to $2 million. When Trouble passed away, the remaining money went to charitable causes. For that reason, consider what happens to the remainder of the money when Mollie dies. Specify in your will exactly who gets this money.
Ed Olkovich, Toronto-based lawyer and certified specialist in estate and trusts law
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