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Italian cat becomes hairy heir

A former stray cat in Rome joined the ranks of the world's richest animals when its owner left it $13 million.

By Giselle Smith Dec 12, 2011 7:17PM

It's hard to imagine an heir more indifferent to his huge inheritance than Tommaso.

The 4-year-old Italian black cat -- a former stray on the streets of Rome -- is apparently now the richest cat in the world, according to the International Business Times.

Tommaso inherited an estate worth $13 million when its owner, Maria Assunta, died two weeks ago at the age of 94, The Telegraph reported. Assunta was the widow of a property tycoon, and had no children or living relatives.

Assunta's estate included a large bank balance and property in Rome, Milan and Calabria, but Tommaso's care was entrusted to the nurse who cared for the cat's owner in her final months. In fact, because Italian law doesn't permit animals to inherit property, the attorney for the estate gave the cat and his fortune to Assunta's former nurse.

Tommaso now lives with Assunta's caretaker, Stefania, at an undisclosed location outside Rome. "I had no idea the signora had such wealth," she told The Guardian.

Other famously wealthy pets

Tommaso is the latest in a long line of pets that became millionaires upon the death of their wealthy owners.

Leona Helmsley's Maltese, Trouble, was probably the most famously wealthy pet when his owner died in 2007, leaving $12 million to the dog. The dog itself passed away in June, at the age of 12, and the money reverted to the Helmsley Charitable Trust, The Street reported.

Other rich animals include Alexander McQueen's dogs ($82,000) and Michael Jackson's chimp, Bubbles ($1 million). Oprah Winfrey's dogs are set to inherit $30 million, according to Woman's Day.

However, none are as wealthy as an Alsatian dog named Gunther IV, who inherited a fortune worth about $372 million from a German countess, according to The Guardian.

Increasing popularity of pet trusts

An increasing number of pet owners are seeking to make provisions for their pets in their wills, according to Gerry W. Beyer, a professor at Texas Tech University School of Law.

"It is something that has gone from almost a comical thing to something that people take very seriously and want…. People are sometimes more interested in taking care of their pets than their families," Beyer told the Chicago Tribune. Post continues below.

A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of one's pet (or pets) when its owner dies or becomes disabled. Funds are left in the care of a trustee, who can care for the pet or identify a caretaker.

According to Beyer's website,, a trust might cover:

  • Food, toys and cages
  • Grooming
  • Socialization
  • Medical care
  • Compensation for a caregiver
  • Guidelines for how the caregiver should document expenses
  • Instructions for disposal of the pet’s remains

Most states have enacted pet trust laws, but specifics vary by state. Some impose funding limits, and a few limit the duration of the trust to 21 years -- a potential hardship if the deceased's pet is a parrot, which can live up to 90 years.

A list of 44 state pet trust laws is available on the ASPCA website.

Alas even someone as wealthy as Helmsley can't always get what she wants when it comes to leaving money to a pet. Though she famously left the bulk of her estate to the dog, a judge reduced the $12 million bequest to about $2 million. In addition, the judge overturned her directive that the charitable trust be used for animal welfare, and allowed the trustees to distribute Helmsley’s assets to any charities they chose, according to the Washington University in St. Louis newsroom.

Furthermore, Helmsley had requested that Trouble be buried in the mausoleum beside her and her late husband, Harry Helmsley, but by law, animals cannot be buried in human cemeteries.

What will happen to your pets when you die? Have you considered creating a pet trust to care for them?

More on MSN Money:

Dec 12, 2011 10:44PM
Come to think of it, I do like my cat more than most humans...
Dec 13, 2011 4:46AM
Dec 12, 2011 11:43PM
Hey people whining (yes, you are whining btw) about giving money to a cat.  It was HER money and she can do whatever she wants with it.  She didn't tell you what to do with YOUR money, where do you get off telling her what to do with hers.  Pillars of capatilism, you make a dollar you have the right to do what you want with it. (legally).  Spend it on a cat, spend it on strippers, whatever.  Your money, your choice.  She didn't want to give it to hungry children?  Too bad, maybe she didn't like kids. 
Dec 13, 2011 3:05AM
To all those complaining about millions being left to a cat... It was her money and she had the right to do with it as she pleased.  Even if she had left her money to a frog... Well, it was her money to do with as she wanted.
Dec 12, 2011 10:17PM

I don't think anyone should have the right to tell you what or who you can leave your estate to, if i wanted my pet to be taken care of, that's my business. Hope Leona is spitting up at that judge. Don't understand why he thought he had the right to overturn her wishes, it was HER MONEY.


Dec 13, 2011 4:50AM
Her money and her choice which was meant to appreciate her love for a constant companion who gave her unconditional love until she passed. Hopefully Stephania will care and love Tommasa as much Assunta did. May both Stefania and Tommasa enjoy the inheritance as they both most likely deserve to.
Dec 12, 2011 10:57PM
I love how people always make comments about those who are wealthy leaving their money to organizations to help fellow humans and how it's the most humane thing to do; yet if the government took money from those same individuals who make that claim and gave it to the same organizations, it's not noble, it's socialism.

My point being is that people who truly believe in those causes don't need to wait until someone rich dies to comment about how they should have willed their money; if you believe in a cause, donate.
Dec 12, 2011 10:15PM
I like cats...  Donate $2 million to me and I will build a cat mansion.
Dec 13, 2011 3:36AM
Where do feeding hungry people fit in this story? It was her money and the cat got it. Who cares about hungry people? Stop reproducing! 
Dec 13, 2011 1:30AM
Ridiculous? I think so. But it was her money and if she wanted it all burned after her death that would be all the same to me. Leaving it to a pet at least re-distributes the money in the community. After all, someone's got to make pet food, provide veterinary services, etc.

Besides, leaving money to charities to feed hungry people is crazy, seriously. All species will grow to the limits of their environment/food sources. Feeding the "poor" starving people in XYZ third-world country or anywhere else only serves to encourage them to continue breeding more than their economic status or agricultural capabilities can afford to feed. It's a vicious cycle that can only be corrected by letting nature run her course. You don't see people dumping food out in the desert to feed the "poor, starving creatures", do you?

Dec 13, 2011 2:24AM
Nerd At least the cat is not stupid enough to throw his or /her money to the very rich who are getting richer like some half brained humans do. good for him or her . MIAW MIAW!Baring teeth
Dec 13, 2011 3:52AM
Why do so many people think that others should be entitled to this lady's money? When I go, every last penny in my estate will go to my cremation and internment. Just last week I read an article about a group of guys ( a trio I believe ) who won a Power Ball jack pot. When they announced that they would donate $1million to a charity, people actually complained that it wasn't enough! After reading that, I have decided not to donate to ANY charity. 
Dec 13, 2011 11:17AM
It's her money and chances are the cat was a better companion the the people she knew. 
Dec 13, 2011 11:17AM
How does a guy get in the cat's will?  Hmmmmmmmmmm.
Dec 13, 2011 12:14PM
Here we go again; everyone has a better idea about spending another person's inheritance.  It is NOT your money.  If people want to do something stupid, so what.   Life is not fair; it never will be, and the cat and its caretaker will be just fine.
Dec 12, 2011 8:57PM
Hell, I'd be a pussy if somebody would leave me 13 mil...
Dec 13, 2011 11:17AM
this was her money and she can do whatever she wished on it; being that lonely the cat was most likely a very close and dear companion. 
Dec 12, 2011 10:14PM
Who is the cat going leave this money to when it passes on in it's nine lives?
Dec 13, 2011 10:12AM
Dec 13, 2011 11:28AM

I had a black cat in my family tree. Maybe I'm related!?

(The fire department came and got the cat out of the tree, but so what, maybe I'm still related)

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