My loved one left all their money to their dog. Is this common?

Published 09 Mar 2018

Author: David Cossalter

Australia is a pet-loving nation. Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of households in the country have at least one pet, according to a 2016 Animal Medicines Australia report.

Canines appear to have won the dogs versus cats battle, with 38.5 per cent of households in the country owning a pooch, while 29.2 per cent of people prefer feline company.

But dogs can become a serious bone of contention when animal lovers leave the majority of their assets to pets. What can family members do if they've been left out of a relative's will in favour of a four-legged friend?

Let's examine some examples of famous people writing their pets into a will, as well as the legal options that loved ones have if they've been excluded.

Celebrity canines set for lives of luxury 

Leaving money for the care of a pet is more common than you might think - and some legacies are huge.

For example, Oprah Winfrey has left $38.4 million in a trust to ensure her menagerie of animals isn't neglected when she dies, according to a source for Australia's Woman's Day magazine. The money represents just a fraction of the billionaire chat show star's fortune.

US real estate mogul Leona Helmsley left her dog Trouble $15.35 million when she died in 2007. However, her estate was subject to an inheritance dispute when her two grandsons found out they had received nothing.

The judge ruled in favour of the two grandsons, awarding them $7.6 million each, while Trouble's legacy was reduced to $2.5 million. The remainder went to charities.

What can I do if a loved one leaves their fortune to a pet?

Depending on your relationship with the deceased, you may be able to contest the will of a loved one if you believe they have not given you adequate provision from their estate.

Under the Succession Act 2006, people who are eligible to claim include spouses, children and certain dependants. This includes grandchildren if they lived with the deceased at any time prior to their death.

Judges weigh various factors when ruling on family provision claims, including:

  • The strength of the relationship between the claimant and the deceased;
  • The current and future financial needs of the claimant and existing beneficiaries; and
  • The conduct of the claimant before and after the deceased's death.

In cases where the primary beneficiary is a dog, lawyers may argue that the future maintenance of an animal does not require a sizeable legacy, particularly if the decision excludes other potential beneficiaries.

Every case is different, however, which is why speaking to an experienced inheritance disputes lawyer is always recommended.

Contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers to discuss family provision claims and any other questions you may have about estate planning laws in Australia.

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