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Pets are Becoming More and More Entrenched in Family Affairs

Posted by Dominick R. Dolci | Jul 31, 2019 | 0 Comments

Your dog and cat or other house pet are increasingly becoming bonafide members of the family. This is true throughout Chicago and the metropolitan area. But the cultural change isn't materializing in Illinois alone but throughout the United States. And it isn't new news either but has been a topic of discussion for years now. In fact, The Harris Poll published a study in 2015 identified the many signs that more and more Americans treat pets as family members.

Concerning the law, this realization is underscored in three specific areas of law:

  1. Estate Planning;
  2. Divorce; and 
  3. Domestic Violence.

Illinois Estate Planning & Pets

There have been high-profile deaths in the past where people were surprised to learn that a decedent's pet was in the will and inherited great sums of wealth – like the case of hotel heiress Leona Helmsley who died in 2007 and left a $12 million trust fund for her dog. 

In Illinois, the Pet Trust Act was passed and became effective on January 1, 2005. This Act, codified as 760 ILCS 5/15.2, allows people to create trusts for their companion animals through their estate plan. This trust will allow for the companion animals to be cared for according to the terms of the trust after you or your surviving spouse dies.

You remain in control of the pet trust until you die. The trust will outline things like who manages the trust, who cares for the companion animal, what does that care entail, what happens to the remaining funds of the trust after the companion animal also dies.

Divorcing in Illinois & Custody of Your Pet

When a couple divorces and has children, the divorced couple enters into an agreement concerning the custody of their children. After January 1, 2018, custody can also refer to a married couple's pets. In fact, when considering who gets custody of the couple's pets, the court must think about the "well-being" of the pet.

No longer are pets considered as mere marital property to be divided up as if a piece of furniture or any other type of property.

Domestic Violence in Chicago & Pets as Tool and Victim

Unfortunately, as beloved companions of the family, pets can also be targeted during domestic violence cases. Pets may be targeted because the alleged abuser understands your emotional attachment to the animal and wants to manipulate those feelings. It is also a way to intimidate the human target of domestic violence.

A dog, cat, or another animal may endure serious abuse. According to the Humane Society of the United States:

In one survey, 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted pets.
In one study of families under investigation for suspected child abuse, researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88 percent of the families under supervision for physical abuse of their children.

In Illinois, when a domestic violence victim files for a protection order, the pet can be added to it.

If you have questions about your pets and the law, contact us at Dolci & Weiland. With pets as members of our own families, we understand why they are loved and why you want to ensure they continue to get that love.

About the Author

Dominick R. Dolci

Managing Partner Dominick R. Dolci focuses his practice on criminal defense litigation and civil litigation. Dom graduated from John Marshall law school in 1990. He began his legal training in the Cook County States Attorneys Office where he worked at 26th and California. He then transferred ...


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