All About Estates

Thank You for Being a Friend – The Legacy of Betty White

Today’s blog has been written by Jessica J. Butler, Law Clerk at Fasken LLP

Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922 and passed away at her home on December 31, 2021 – just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday.

“I feel like crawling under the covers and eating Velveeta right out of the box” – a quote from one of Betty’s most well-known performances as on The Golden Girls sums up the feelings many of us had upon hearing of Betty’s passing.  As this blog’s own Peter Meitanis said,“Betty was one of those rare celebrities that everyone loved.”  Indeed, she was, and this certainly wasn’t the ending to 2021 that any of us were expecting.

Betty’s vast Hollywood career started back in 1949 with her own radio show, The Betty White Show, which would go on to become a daily variety show, both hosted and produced by Betty. Betty would go on to become known as the “First Lady of Gameshows” and was a staple of the network game shows of the 60s (including my personal favourite, Match Game).  She would appear in such classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show before stepping into the shoes of lovable St. Olaf native Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls in 1985.

But Betty was not just an entertainer.  Betty was socially aware and made it a point in her life to stand up for gender equality, to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and was a trailblazing animal rights activist.  “My life is divided in absolute half: half animals, half show business”, she once said.  It is no surprise then that one of Betty’s favourite projects was The Pet Set from the early 70s – a TV series she hosted where celebrities would appear on the show with their pets, and which gave Betty the platform she wanted to discuss and advocate for animal care, ecology, and wildlife preservation.

In our last post on Betty’s estate, we touched on Betty’s work as an activist for animals and animal welfare.  Betty had worked closely with the Greater Los Angeles Area Zoo Association and the Morris Animal Foundation for decades, in addition to establishing her own Betty White Wildlife Fund.

The details of Betty’s estate are not widely known, but it is estimated that her net worth was $75 million US dollars.  Betty did not have any biological children but was stepmother to three children from her marriage to her beloved Allen Ludden, who passed away in 1981. Betty had many pets over the years, but her most recent and last companion, a golden retriever named Pontiac, died in 2017.  Had Pontiac still been with us, one wonders if Betty’s estate plan would have provided for him.  Betty’s last will and testament could have appointed a “pet guardian” for her fur baby and provided said guardian with either a cash legacy or a trust to provide for Pontiac’s continued care, through the pet guardian being a beneficiary.

There is no doubt that Betty’s legacy will live on in her charitable giving, both from her own estate and from the many fans who were inspired by Betty.  As a result of her death, the #BettyWhiteChallenge has gained traction on social media, a challenge designed to honour Betty’s memory by inviting fans to donate to their local animal shelter on January 17, 2022 – what would have been Betty’s 100th birthday.  A donation to your local animal shelter, assuming it is a registered charity for Canadian tax purposes, will provide tax relief during your lifetime.  Looking ahead and taking a cue from Betty by including a gift (whether that is a fixed amount or a residual gift) to such a registered charity on your death may allow more of your estate to be left to your family.

Donations to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (charitable registration number 889691044 RR 0002) help provide urgent care and shelter for vulnerable animals in Ontario, a cause Betty surely would have appreciated.  The writer will be making a donation in Betty’s honour, and would encourage others to do the same, if possible.

From furry friends, critters big and small, and humans alike – thank you for being everyone’s friend, Betty.

About Fasken
Fasken is a full-service law firm with offices in Canada, the U.K., South Africa and China. We work with clients around the globe, advising on legal issues affecting all types of industry, government and individual objectives.

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