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Fluffy Living Large as Possible Heir to Marylanders' Estates

As if dogs and furballs aren't bad enough, now your pet cat might have to worry about the estate tax.

A bill passed in the Maryland Senate Thursday 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, R -Frederick, 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 were 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 current Maryland law, an estate trustee is not legally obligated to care for animals belonging to the departed, even if such care was specifically requested. The legislation would require trustees to care for pets of the deceased according to their wishes.

If the bill were to pass, owners would be able to leave as much money to their pets as they wanted and could even designate a pet as the sole beneficiary of their estate.

Smith said 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 insuring they would be taken care of if she didn't make it.

Smith survived the cancer, but said she still feels strongly about the need for owners to ensure that their pets are cared for even 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, D-Prince George's, said similar legislation has passed in a number of other states and many Maryland legislators underestimate the bill's popularity.

"I don't think they know how many pet owners are out there, to be honest with you," Green said.

The bill has passed the Senate but still faces a challenge in the House.

The Senate vote seemed to follow party lines, with Democrats supporting the bill and nearly twice the number of Republicans voting against the bill as voted for it.

When asked about this partisan trend, Green foreshadowed an upcoming showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the issue of pet estates.

"It's their dogs and cats against ours," he laughed. "We're going to meet 'em at high noon."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.