Many newspapers have recently reported the story, Puss in Clover: How an owner left £9m to her cat. As with many of these stories, the reports claim the cat, a stray named Tommaso, is now the third-richest animal in the world after inheriting the millions from the wealthy owner – an Italian childless widow who took him in.
But is it really true that anyone could leave their entire estate to an animal? And as a cat owner myself, would it be possible for me to leave anything of value to my cat Crystal?
The legal reality…
Alas, some research and sadly the answer legally is no… in the UK, US and most other countries, it is simply not legally possible to leave money or property to a pet. The reason: legally a pet is something you own and is regarded as your property (and you can’t leave property to property…) and also does not have the other legal requirement – a bank account.
And in fact when we read further into this recent £9m story, a slightly different picture emerges. Under Italian law the widow was not allowed to leave property to an animal and so left it to her nurse Stefania, who will continue to care for the cat. So not such a good story after all – unfortunately – although Stefania who had no idea the widow she looked after was so wealthy, must be now one of the wealthiest nurses in the world.
And this I’m afraid is the true situation behind all other stories of the world’s wealthiest pets, which make the papers.
Other ‘richest pet’ stories
Digging deeper into other accounts of the ‘richest pets in the world’ – when British comedienne Beryl Reid died apparently her cats Coco, Boon, Hamish, Eileen and Tuffnel ‘inherited her estate’ – but in fact a friend looks after them in the $1.8million cottage ensuring the pets continue to live the high life they were accustomed to.
And then there is Trouble the dog. When the dog’s Property tycoon owner Leona Helmsley died, it was said £6m went to Trouble. But in fact, her brother has been entrusted with caring for Trouble.
Brits want to leave money to pets
Unsurprisingly, as so many of us do count our pets as family, a recent survey by financial advice website unbiased.co.uk discovered almost 1.5 million Brits plan to leave money to their pets when they die.
However, although leaving money to your pet will invalidate your Will (so don’t do it!), there are ways to ensure your pet does live happily ever after on your death. You can have a clause that essentially says ‘The executors will find your pet a loving home and the new owner of your pet must commit to livelong care – such as vets’ bills, the cost of kennel, type of food they eat and their care.’ The money for this would then be left for that owner to spend on the pet – with the executors of the Will ensuring that new owner doesn’t just put your pet down and go off with the cash.
You can also leave money to a pet charity who will also find a new owner for your pet – one such charity is Home for Life, run by the RSPCA (www.homeforlife.org.uk).