PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.
You may have seen recent media reports of an American heiress who cut her two sons out of her will so that her pet Maltese terrier to ensure that her very pampered pet would inherit her $million fortune. This reminded me of a very sad and cautionary tale about a similar case in the UK which had a very different and unfortunate outcome.
A lady in her 90’s lived on her own with her beloved Pekinese dog. As none of her three children, nor any of her many grandchildren, showed any inclination to look after the dog after she died the heiress decided to leave her entire, not so modest, fortune to an animal charity.
On discovering her intentions one of her more devious sons, who has some knowledge of the law, realised that his mother’s plans to leave her entire estate to charity would be valid and binding. This would mean that none of the children would inherit anything from their mother. Clearly irritated by this the son told his mother that if she left her fortune to charity she would have no control over what the money was spent on and the money may not be directly used to pay for the care of canines. The son then persuaded his mother that it was a better idea to leave all her estate to her beloved pet Pekinese. That way, whoever was looking after the dog would have sufficient money to look after the dog and she could rest in peace knowing that her beloved pet would be properly provided for. The heiress thought this was a very good idea and duly signed the will that her son had prepared for her.
What the devious son was aware of, and his mother unaware, was that under the laws of England and Wales, pets are not recognised as beneficiaries under a will because they are treated as an item of property. In effect, as her pet formed part of her property and belongings she would be leaving the dog to itself!
Had the old lady taken legal advice the folly of the plan would have been discovered. The devious son however knew that his mother had signed a worthless will and in doing so had thwarted her very charitable intentions.
After her death the old lady’s will was, not surprisingly, declared to be invalid. This meant that the heiress died intestate and in these circumstances English law provides that the estate is distributed amongst the family members. The animal charity received nothing.
The moral of this sad episode is that if you are thinking of changing your will or making provision for your beloved pet, horse or other animal seek the advice of a legal professional so that you can be sure that your wishes are observed.