Woman's $100,000 Bequest to Her Cat Is Upheld

, New York Law Journal


Justice Egan

ALBANY - An appeals court has deferred to a surrogate who ruled that a woman was not under the undue influence of others when she disinherited her three nephews in a new will and bequeathed $100,000 for the care of "Kissie Meouw," her cat.

The attorney who drew up the new will in 2007 indicated that Charlotte Stafford was "very aware" and "alert" as they worked on the revisions together, the Appellate Division, Third Department said in Matter of Stafford, 516429.

Attorney Thomas Emerson of Norwich said he explained to Stafford the effect of the changes she requested and she told him, "That's what I want," according to the ruling.

"By all accounts, decedent was a very intelligent, private and strong-willed woman who 'ran her life the way she wanted to run it,'" Justice John Egan Jr. (See Profile) wrote for a unanimous panel.

The court added that Emerson "did not observe any evidence of undue influence with respect to the execution of the various instruments or the dispositions contained within."

Emerson's conclusions about Stafford's competency were confirmed by the paralegal who accompanied him to Stafford's home in Oxford, Chenango County, in August 2007 and witnessed her signature on the revised will, according to the court.

Stafford had made three earlier wills, none of which mentioned the cat. The documents called for Stafford's three nephews, Richard Stafford, David Stafford and James Stafford to share equally from the estate, although the versions in February 1997 and January 2007 designated $67,000 and $81,000, respectively, for donations to charities.

In addition to disinheriting her three nephews, Charlotte Stafford designated that $300,000 be used to maintain her ancestral home. The home, in turn, was to be held in trust for the benefit of the Town of Oxford to be used for historical research and preservation purposes, according to the will.

Stafford directed that $100,000 be placed in a pet trust for the benefit of her cat, identified in court papers as "Kissie Meouw Stafford." The trust, which also included funds for the maintenance of the Stafford home, will terminate upon Kissie's death or the passage of 21 years after Charlotte Stafford's death, according to her will.

Stafford's friend, housemate and care-giver, Vicky House, was designated as Kissie's caretaker, according to the will, and allowed to live in the Stafford home rent-free for as long as she acted in the cat caretaker capacity.

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