16. Aug 17

Animal shelter effectively designated as heir in will

It is not possible for animals to inherit, but the same does not hold true for animal shelters. That being said, a clearly drafted will needs to be prepared for this to happen.

In the absence of a will or contract of inheritance, the rules of intestate succession apply. These will not necessarily lead to a result that corresponds with the testator’s wishes, but they can be circumvented with a will. With this, the testator can determine who his heir or heirs will be. We at the law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that this does not have to be a natural person; a legal person, such as an association, can also be appointed as heir. Having said that, things can become problematic if the association has since been wound up or had to file for insolvency.

Such were the circumstances of the inheritance case that came before the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Düsseldorf [Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf]. Here, the childless and single testator designated an animal shelter, or more specifically its sponsoring association, as his heir. Several years after the will was drawn up, insolvency proceedings were initiated in relation to the association. However, the animal shelter had been taken over by another association. The point of contention was then who should inherit, with the insolvency administrator of the “old” association also applying for a certificate of inheritance. In its judgment of January 12, 2017, the OLG Düsseldorf ruled against him and held that it was the new association that had become heir (Az.: I-3 Wx 257/16).

The OLG ruled that the testator had appointed the association which at the time was not yet insolvent as his sole heir in a will. Yet he had cited as the address the location of the animal shelter and not the head office of the association in doing so. Moreover, the carer to the sick testator was said to have confirmed in a witness statement that it was the latter’s intention for the animal shelter to inherit. The testator was supposed to have been intent on supporting the animals at the animal shelter, there having been no thought given to the possibility of insolvency or the association being wound up at the time the will was drafted.

The OLG held that in interpreting the will it had established that it was the testator’s desire to support the animals and not the insolvent association’s creditors. It went on to say that a testator does not normally make donations to a legal person for the sake of the legal person itself but rather to promote the cause to which the legal person is dedicated.

Even though the inheritance ultimately went to the animal shelter, the case clearly demonstrates the need to word one’s final will as accurately and specifically as possible. Lawyers who are versed in the field of succession law can offer advice.

For more informations:

https://www.grprainer.com/en/legal-advice/private-clients/law-of-succession.html

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