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Where pets inherit property

By Harold Ayodo | February 4th 2016

In developed countries, bequeathing pets property is normal. But locally, that is not legally recognised.

Many wealthy pet owners in developed countries have made provisions for their pets in wills, turning the animals into overnight real estate magnates.

Maria Assunta, the wealthy widow of an Italian property tycoon, grabbed global media headlines when she bequeathed her cat properties in Milan, Rome and land in Calabria.

When her health began to fail, Assunta, who was 94 with no children, began to seek a way to see that Tommaso (the pampered cat) was properly cared for after she died.

More recently, The Daily Mail reported that a pet dog called Bella Mia would inherit a fortune of around £1 million (Sh145 million) when her owner, Rose Ann Bolasny, dies.

Gift from God

Bolasny, a 60-year-old accountant in New York, said her pet dog was a “gift from God” and should continue to live a life of luxury once she was gone.

The dog, who is treated to fillet mignon steak for dinner and has her own bedroom with a double bed, is set to inherit jewellery, a trust fund and a holiday home from her adoring owner.

Interestingly, Bolasny’s two sons, aged 32 and 38, who have been cut out of the will, said they were quite happy for the dog to be left their mother’s fortune.

“Prior to changing my will, I discussed having Bella Mia included in the trust fund with my sons and they totally understood. I explained to them that I know they love Bella Mia very much, but I wanted to make sure if anything happens to us, she was taken care of in the way she is used to. My sons at that point were not part of that house because it is a recent purchase,” Bolasny told The Daily Mail.

Locally, succession laws do not provide for pets to inherit property. The Law of Succession Act provides that property of persons who die intestate (without writing wills) and have no relatives devolves upon the State bona vocantia (for lack of an heir).

The property, which has no heir, is usually liquidated and the proceeds paid to the Consolidated Fund.

Revenues received for purposes of the Government is paid into the Consolidated Fund and only withdrawn on authorisation by the Constitution or an Act of Parliament.

The law

The law dictates that blood relatives in the order of father, mother, brothers and sisters should inherit property of a deceased person in equal shares.

Other relatives who can inherit if the others are dead are cousins, children of cousins and other blood relatives up to the sixth degree before it devolves to the State.

The spouse and children of the deceased are, however, given the first priority of inheritance if the husband/father dies intestate.

The widow usually holds the property as a trustee for the children when they are below 18 years. However, in the West, between 12 and 27 per cent of pet owners make provisions for their pets in their wills, according to the Washington University School of Law.

Moreover, pet trusts have become so popular that 39 US states have laws that transform the pampered animals into real estate moguls.

The late New York hotelier and real estate billionaire Leona Helmsley shocked the world by leaving her pet dog, Trouble, property worth Sh864 million.

Helmsley left the fortune for the upkeep of the dog in the hands of her brother Alvin Rosenthal who inherited Sh720 million.

Helmsley also said in her will that Trouble be buried next to her and her late husband in their mausoleum.

The couple built a company, which managed prestigious properties in New York, including the Empire State Building and hotels across the country.

Helmsley left out of her will two of her four grandchildren but allocated Sh216 million for the maintenance of the mausoleum.

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