December 15, 2011

Pet Trust

My sister's cat "Snickers"

The California Probate Code allows a person to select a host of beneficiaries. 

A person may select an individual, corporation, charity, or a governmental unit as a beneficiary. Prob C § 6102. However, a pet or companion animal is ineligible to receive an outright inheritance. Instead, a pet may "inherit" property, at least in California, through the medium of a pet trust. Prob C § 15212.

The following are some famous examples of pet owners who decided to leave a gift to their feline or canine friend.

The late Leona Helmsley was a very wealthy person. In her will, she bequeathed $12M to her Maltese dog "Trouble." Later a New York court ruled that Ms. Helmsley was mentally unfit when she executed her will and reduced the dog's inheritance to a mere $2M. According to an affidavit submitted to the court by the dog's caretaker, Carl Lekic, $2M would be sufficient to pay  for the dog's care at the optimum level for more than 10 years. He stated that annual costs for full-time security would be $100,000, $8,000 for grooming and $1,200 for food costs. Additionally Mr. Lekic would receive an annual guardian fee of $60,000. Sadly Mr. Lekic's compensation was reduced in light of Trouble's decreased inheritance.

Similar to Ms. Helmsley, Maria Assunta passed away a very rich woman in Italy. Her late husband had amassed a huge fortune through property holdings. Upon Ms. Assunta's passing, she was survived by no heirs so she made the decision to leave $13M to a nurse to care for her beloved cat "Tommaso."

Thelma Russell, a resident of San Diego County, apparently deeply cared for Chester H. Quinn and Roxy Russell. Her holographic will, in its entirety, stated "I leave everything I own Real & Personal to Chester H. Quinn & Roxy Russell signed Thelma L. Russell." Estate of Russell (1968) 69 C2d 200. The good news for Mr. Quinn was that he received 1/2 of Ms. Russell's estate. The bad news for Mr. Quinn was that he could not claim the other 1/2 of Ms. Russell's estate to manage for the benefit of Roxy Russell, her dog, since a pet is not an eligible beneficiary in a will. The worst news for Mr. Quinn was that because the bequest to Roxy Russell failed, 1/2 of Ms. Russell's estate fell into intestacy and was transferred to Ms. Russell's heir rather than Mr. Quinn.