Super-rich furry animals: Four-legged legacies (and other pet payouts)
When the New York socialite Leona Helmsley left much of her fortune to her poodle rather than her grandchildren, she was following in a long – if odd – tradition. Rob Sharp discovers some notable beneficiaries
Friday 31 August 2007
The US property billionaire Leona Helmsley was not known as New York's "queen of mean" for nothing. With her devilish reputation as a ball-crusher, she epitomised 1980s greed and indifference to the feelings of the "little people".
But she did care about at least one living creature apart from herself: when her will was published this week, it was revealed that she had left more than $12m (£6m) to her white Maltese dog "Trouble". Like her mistress, the rich bitch has a reputation for tearing strips off people.
But was this bizarre gesture quite as abnormal as it seems? Not necessarily. There have, over the years, been surprisingly many examples of legacies to non-human beneficiaries, and a whole pack of domesticated animals have been on the receiving end of gargantuan endowments.
For jealous humans, this provokes the question: what on earth do they spend it on? For obvious reasons, it is impossible to ask the pets themselves. But the evidence does suggest they have no difficulty spending the stuff.
The most notorious heir of the dog variety is a German Shepherd called Gunther IV. Pictured on his website sitting proudly with a bevy of leathered up hero-worshippers the canine is reportedly worth $180m.
He inherited the money from his father, the imaginatively-named Gunther III, who was given $60m when German countess Karlotta Libenstein died in 1992. According to one of a spate of websites that have sprung up in homage to the moneyed mutt, "Gunther does not have owners. He has trustees." The dog is now thought to "live a jet-setter's existence". He jumped into the public eye when the BBC reported in 2000 that he had rustled up $7.5m to buy Madonna's Florida villa; the dog even threw down dibs for the master bedroom.
Ever ravenous for doggy bling, on 11 November 2001, Gunther appeared at an auction in northern Italy where through his "associates" – an obscure euro-pop rock band called The Burgundians (who have released only one single which is not available in stores) – he successfully bid three million lira (£1,050) for a truffle.
It has to be said that some have denounced Gunther as a hoax, or possibly performance art, but the dignified, enigmatic canine picture on the opposite page looks real enough to us.
There are, in any case, many other examples. Another pet with a notorious – and huge – windfall is Kalu the chimpanzee, who stands to inherit a fortune worth £40m. The animal was rescued from a tree in South Africa by owner Patricia O'Neill. Then, while her husband Frank, an Australian swimmer, was competing in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, she changed her will so that Kalu would inherit her estate near Cape Town. "I couldn't bear the thought of what might happen to her after I died," she said. Her husband, however, was less affectionate, saying that he had hated the monkey ever since he caught it smoking his cigarettes and drinking his booze.
Then there is the poodle Toby Rimes, a descendant of a dog that inherited £15m from New York owner Ella Wendel. There is Tinker, an eight-year-old moggy from North London, who came into £450,000 when Margaret Layne, an elderly lady who found him as a stray, left him a three-bedroom house in Harrow – along with a £100,000 trust fund when she died in 2002. And there are Eileen, Hamish, Paris, Tuffnel, Boon and Coco, the cats of Beryl Reid, the actress, who died in 1996. She left her £900,000 cottage on the Thames to her friend Paul Strike, asking him to look after them.
Big Tibby, a 52-year-old tortoise, can enjoy his dotage in style after his millionaire owner Donald Moss, director of a family-owned mattress company in Stockport, left him £50,000. An African parrot called Csoki was reportedly left £50,000 by London millionairess Victoria Brown.
Fluffy, a ginger tomcat, inherited £30,000 from his owner Mary Burton, a church organist from Great Paxton, Cambridgeshire, who left her estate to the Wood Green Animal Shelter in Hertfordshire provided that staff take good care of her pet. Her will decreed he, "should have a home in the sun and be provided with a diet of fresh pilchards, steamed cod, tail ends, no bones, best lean roast beef and vegetables and only milk no water."
Why do people make such legacies? Essentially, because their animals occupy a pre-eminent part in their owners' lives. The RSPCA's David Grant said: "Pets can be an important companion to older people. Our research reveals the over-60s rate them as a more important part of their lives than their friends."
The most important motive is usually to make sure that the pet in question is looked after, and a crucial point in such wills is the identity of the person who will administer the legacy on the animal's behalf. Thus Helmsley's Trouble will be cared for by Leona's brother Alvin Rosenthal (who was left $10m). The will also calls for Trouble to be entombed alongside Helmsley and her husband Harry Helmsley, who died in 1997, in their $1.4m mausoleum, for which Helmsley set aside $3m for upkeep including annual cleanings.
"I have not made any provisions in this will for my grandson Craig Panzirer or my granddaughter Meegan Panzirer for reasons which are known to them," Helmsley wrote. A spokesman for Helmsley declined to comment.
According to the RSPCA, some owners don't give sufficient thought to the question of how their pets will live after they have gone. Of the 90,000 pet owners who die in the UK each year 70,000 do not make arrangements for their pets. RSPCA spokeswoman Nicky Richardson said: "We encourage people if they care about animals to give generously to us to improve the lives of animals. What's of primary importance is to make sure that there is someone there to look after their animal."
Most Brits admit they would not be happy to take on an animal if a friend or relative died. Furthermore, many do not consider the possibility that their pets might outlive them. While cats generally live up to 16 years old, Macaws can live for 80 years and a tortoise that died last year was thought to be 250 years old.
Meanwhile, it is clear that a well-placed legacy can do wonders. A labrador cross called Jasper , for example, was abandoned and left to die at Battersea Dogs Home and was about to be put to sleep when he caught the eye of Ramsden Brewery heiress Diana Myburgh. He had barely settled in his new home when his new owner died, in 1995, at the age of 74, leaving him and another dog, Jason, £25,000 each.
He has lived in the lap of luxury ever since, on a 500 hectare estate, and is thought to have inherited around £25,000. He eats nothing but sirloin steak, Dover sole and fresh mussels and wears a diamond collar.
Ridiculous? Perhaps. Yet after his earlier sufferings it seems mean to begrudge him his good fortune.
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