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If you're going to leave your entire estate to your dog, make sure to include what happens if the dog dies before you do, court says

Heirs to a woman who left her entire estate to her beloved cocker spaniel, Licorice, are feuding over that estate because Licorice died two years before she did, but she didn't change her will before she also left this mortal coil.

One of Theresa Jablonski's four survivors, a niece, who managed her affairs in her later years, petitioned to serve as personal representative of the will - and to donate the estate's value to a charity she would help choose, because Jablonski's will, which set up a trust for Licorice's "health, care, maintenance, and appearance," specified that a charity be named for any money left over after Licorice died. The niece's attorney compiled the will for Jablonski, a Worcester resident, in 2013, when Licorice was 15.

But the other three survivors - another niece and two nephews - contested that in court.

Although a Probate Court judge sided with the executor niece, the Supreme Judicial Court today ruled the judge was too hasty in making that decision and needs to give the matter more thought.

The state's highest court concluded that the trust effectively dissolved when Licorice "pre-deceased the decedent" in 2017, age approximately 19, so Jablonski's wishes that the remainder of the trust be given to some charity appeared to be null since the trust no longer legally existed when she died in 2019, at 83 in a Framingham nursing home.

Compounding the problem is that Jablonski did not state a specific charity to be granted the remainder of her estate, the court said.

Here, extrinsic evidence is necessary to resolve the ambiguity whether, at the time of the making of the will, the decedent intended that the to-be-named charity was to receive the remainder notwithstanding Licorice's failure to survive her. Thus, there exists a genuine issue of fact, such that the award of summary judgment was improper.

If no such evidence pops up, the court concluded, then Jablonski's estate would become intestate, which means a probate judge would figure out how to apportion the estate.

The court took no position on the other heirs' allegation that the would-be personal-rep heir manipulated Jablonski into agreeing to the will - the Middlesex judge had ruled they failed to prove that.

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Comments

There’s a family.

Kudos to the niece, sorry she’s related to the others.

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Clearly, the testator's intent was to have her estate go to charity after Licorice went paws up. Not to the greedy heirs.

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The will expresses a clear intent to NOT leave any money to these people.

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Somewhere Licorice and me are laughing.

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Dog seance.

It's the only way to find out what Licorice would have wanted.

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and not put in even the most basic contingencies?

(Unless she *wanted* there to be a fight, in which case, success.)

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that someone oughtta be asking the Nice Niece's attorney who drew up the dumb will without foreseeing the potential mortality of a 15-year-old dog.

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That is likely exactly how they are challenging the will.

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In 2013 you had a 15 year old dog and a woman who was around 77 (so right around the tipping point for life expectancy on both of them) and the will was created. Putting that together without a contingency for the the dog dying first seems rather foolhardy.

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How much money are we talking about here?

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You can see the filings in the case here, including one by one of the nephews who contested the charity thing, who claims that, at one point the woman might have had an estate worth $1.2 million, but that the executor niece (who quit the Catholic religious order she belonged to and gave up her tenured professor job at a university in Pennsylvania to care for her aunt) somehow managed to screw much of that up - a finding the probate judge ruled there was no proof of (the judge's ruling is included as an appendix to the nephew's filing).

So she was no Leona Helmsley, but she left enough to go to court over, I guess.

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Leaving aside the dog aspect, I am interested in the idea of bequeathing one's estate to the dead, because I would like to make myself my own beneficiary. This is not because I am planning for an acquisitive afterlife, like some kind of Pharaoh, but because I like the idea of keeping the Law spinning in perpetuity. The only immortality I can hope for.

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