The fashion czar Rudolph Mooshammer showed everyone how it is done: When he died in 2005, his last will and testament went to his dog Daisy. The Yorkshirelady could continue to live a life of luxury in Moshammer’s villa until she herself passed away. Inheriting assets to pets is generally not allowed in Germany. However, there are ways to ensure the continued care of dogs or cats after death.
Right of inheritance of dogs or cats
In Germany, many people decide to include their dog or cat in the will. A pet is for some people over many years a faithful companion, which means that it should continue to be rewarded even after the death of the owner. Dogs and cats also have a high value for many people. They are not only considered as pets, but even as family members. Especially for older, single people, dogs or cats are substitutes for a caregiver and become the center of everyday life.
In some cases it happens that a considerable fortune is inherited to animals. However, animals are considered things under German law. Dogs or cats lack therefore the conditions to be allowed to inherit something. Animals do not have legal capacity and therefore cannot inherit. They are generally excluded from inheritance. Also no certificate of inheritance can be requested for animals, which is presented afterwards with authorities.
Several courts have had to deal with the same issue in the past. Partly these judgements lie already some years back. In 2003, the Munich I Regional Court ruled on the case of a childless testator who, in addition to her two brothers and nieces and nephews, had also included her dog in her will. The dog was taken care of after death by an acquaintance, who however was not a co-heiress, only because she takes care of the dog. The judges ruled that the dog was not a legal person and no inheritance could be received from it.
Provision for the care of the pet
Although a dog or cat cannot be included in a will, a testator can still make provisions and protect his or her pet in advance. Of course, dog or cat can not directly take the inheritance. Rather, the continued care of the pet must be organized by a trusted person.
Bequest for dog or cat
Pet owners can set up a bequest while the pet is still alive, designating one person as the legatee. The bequest still includes a requirement that the beneficiary take care of the pet. The testator usually specifies a certain amount of money to be used for the dog or cat. Only if the legatee also accepts the condition in favor of dog or cat and continues to take care of the pet, he becomes an heir and is taken into account accordingly in the estate.
Protection of dog or cat
The possibility of making a bequest with appropriate conditions offers the chance to continue to provide for the dog or cat even after one’s own death. In this way, the testator knows that his pet is in good hands and does not have to worry about its future. However, he must note that the bequest does not necessarily have to be accepted.
The courts, which have had to deal with dogs or cats as heirs on several occasions, have also ruled similarly. In one case, a testator had bequeathed the entire estate to his dog. In addition, he had a friend take care of a dog after his death and ensure that the decedent’s home continues to be maintained. However, the judges declared that such a disposition is void and the legal succession takes place. Accordingly, it was not the acquaintance who had previously taken care of the dog who was designated the heir, but the deceased’s half-brothers.
However, the court, in this case the Regional Court of Bonn, found that the acquaintance had the right to be compensated by the legal heirs on the basis of a care insurance policy previously taken out for the dog.
Dog or cat as part of the inheritance
Since dogs or cats are legally considered property, they fall under the estate like other property of a deceased person. There is no distinction between property and animals, making the pet part of an inheritance. If the deceased has not made a will, animals also become the property of the heirs after the death of the owner, who can keep the dog or cat, sell it or give it to an animal shelter.