What do contesting wills and pets have in common?

Published 17 Mar 2014

It’s your prerogative to leave your assets to anyone you like when you die – even your pets. However, it should be noted that such decisions have led to contesting wills cases in the past.

Leona Helmsley is a case in point. This US entrepreneur left a whopping $12 million to her beloved dog, Trouble, in her will, but made absolutely no provision for her two grandchildren.

They were outraged, and decided to get in touch with contesting wills lawyers to get a larger portion of Ms Helmsley’s estate. They were successful and granted $6 million each, while the dog’s trust was reduced to a mere $2 million.

Ms Helmsley is not the only person who has risked someone contesting a will they’ve made by leaving a big portion of their assets to a furry friend.

ABC News reported in 2011 that an Italian woman had left $13 million to her cat, Tommaso, which she rescued from the streets of Rome. Reader’s Digest also reveals that Kalu, a chimpanzee that was rescued in 1985 by Patricia O’Neill (the wife of an Olympic swimmer), was bequeathed $80 million in his owner’s will.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2014 that 68 per cent of households in the US own pets. Out of these, a total of 9 per cent have made financial provisions for their cats or dogs in their wills.

Why? It could have something to do with the fact that 91 per cent of people consider their pets as part of the family, according to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

This survey asked 2,184 pet owners about their relationships with their pets, and revealed that 57 per cent allow their pets to sleep in bed with them, while 33 per cent regularly buy gifts for their cats or dogs when they go abroad.

It’s not uncommon to leave instructions in your will about what you would like to be done with your pets after you’re gone. In fact, the New South Wales Trustee and Guardian has an entire pamphlet devoted to the subject.

In your will, you can ask a family member or loved one to look after your pets, offer a gift of money to a charity in exchange for taking care of your pets, provide money for the “care and maintenance” of your pet or opt to have it euthanised.

If you favour your pets over your human family members in your will, be warned – they might contest a will you’ve made if they feel they’ve been mistreated or inadequately provided for.

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