A bill that passed in the state Senate yesterday would allow pet owners to leave money to their animals through trusts. Essentially, the legislation would grant animal beneficiaries the same legal status as human beneficiaries.
Trusts granted to animals could only be overturned by a court ruling, relatively rare in estate cases.
"It gives you a way to make sure that the four-legged and feathered members of your family are provided for when you're not there to do it," said M L Smith, a pet owner who supported the bill.
"I think it's silly," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Frederick County Republican who was one of 13 senators to vote against the bill when it passed with 33 affirmative votes and no debate. "[The Senate] should have better things to do."
Mooney said trust accounts are only for humans and should not be given to animals. "There are lots of ways to take care of your pets without passing this legislation," he said.
Under state law, an estate trustee is not legally obligated to care for animals belonging to the deceased, even if such care was requested. The legislation would require trustees to care for pets of the deceased according to their wishes.
If the bill passes in the House, owners will be able to leave as much money to their pets as they want and could designate a pet as the sole beneficiary of an estate.
Smith said that when she had breast and colon cancer, the care of her two dogs, Abigail and Jedidiah, was one of her primary concerns. She had no way of ensuring that they would be taken care of if she died.
Smith survived the cancer but said she still feels strongly about the need for owners to ensure that their pets are cared for after the owners die.
"I think [the bill] is important to a lot of Marylanders, and it doesn't hurt anybody," Smith said.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George's County Democrat, said similar legislation has passed in a number of other states, and many Maryland legislators underestimate the bill's popularity.