Using wills to rule from the grave

The last will of a person is usually considered binding on the executors and people sometimes try to ‘rule from the grave’ by laying down stiff conditions that heirs must meet in order to get their inheritance. Putting such conditions always struck me as a bad idea except in the case where the heirs were small children or otherwise incompetent to handle their own affairs, but such requests are almost always obligatory.

Jonathan Turley writes about an extraordinary case in which a woman ordered that her cat be euthanized after her death. This was not out of cruelty. She was in fact an animal lover and had left most of her money to animal charities. But she had rescued the cat from an abusive home and was fearful that it would be abused after her death.

But still, is such a request reasonable? The executors felt that they could not carry out the order and appealed to a judge who agreed to overturn that condition, something that rarely happens with wills.

I think it was the right decision.


  1. Trebuchet says

    Absolutely the right decision. I’m currently the executor of two estates and am glad not to have to deal with anything like that. Frankly I’m surprised that a decent attorney would put that in the will.

    I did have to not comply with my mothers verbal request to have her precious little cat’s ashes buried with her — because he was still living. Sweet little guy; he stayed with us until his time came at the age of 18.

  2. raven says

    My youngest (10 years old) cat’s first human died. She boarded her cat to go into the hospital. And never came out, alive anyway.

    Her kids declined to adopt the cat for some reason.

    At least in this case everything eventually worked out OK. The cat is sleeping out on my deck in the sun and seems pretty happy.

  3. says

    We studied this in art law with a wealthy art collector who wanted their paintings destroyed. That wasn’t enforceable, either. Basically, you can’t make people destroy things in your will.

  4. magistramarla says

    Your comment made me think of Virgil, the author of The Aeneid.
    He was dying before he could quite finish it, and requested that it be destroyed when he was on his deathbed. The Emperor Augustus, who had commissioned the work, stepped in and wouldn’t allow it to be destroyed.
    Generations of Latin teachers like myself are forever grateful to Augustus. Generations of Latin students who have struggled their way through translating it are not!

  5. Nance Confer says

    Who would know? Who checks up on these things? The cat is or is not taken to the pound. Is someone keeping track? Mom says she wants her ashes buried next to Dad’s in our rose garden. What’s she going to do if I don’t do that?

  6. raven says

    Who would know? Who checks up on these things?

    I’m slightly hazy on this, not having died yet and gone through the whole process.

    But there is an involved legal procedure for wills, something hammered out over the last 4,000 years. It’s a common problem inasmuch as the death rate is…100%.

    There is an Executor who is supposed to administer the will. The Executor is overseen by a judge from the probate court.

    Anyone who knows more can add more.

    And yeah, intervening after you are dead is pretty dicey. I suppose you could haunt your relatives or something.

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