The estate of Lonesome George
By Saman Jaffery
Lonesome George, the famed giant Galapagos tortoise, died on June 24 after living more than a century.
An autopsy confirmed that he died of old age. With no offspring and no known individuals from his subspecies (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) left, Lonesome George became known as the rarest creature in the world.
The Globe and Mail recently published a copy of the purported Last Will and Testament of Lonesome George. While we will refrain from commenting at any length on the validity of the Will (which is questionable at best, given that it was prepared by a tortoise who does not have status as a “person,” who had no known means to communicate or write his Will, and whose capacity to make a Will should at least be considered given his advanced age at the time of the Will’s creation), it is certainly interesting to see what a lonesome, last-of-his-breed tortoise put in his Will.
It seems that Lonesome George did not, as you may expect where a testator has no close family or friends, leave gifts in his estate plan to charities and other non-profit organizations. Rather, Lonesome George appears to have allowed some deep-seeded personal issues, which undoubtedly date back to childhood, impact his decision to leave his vast fortune, which he claims is comprised of pirate gold, elephant ivory and Monsanto stock, to the “international whaling lobby.”
While this gives the whaling lobby no doubt something to “spout” about, one might have thought that a gift to an environmental cause would have been more apropos. (No comment is made respecting the enforceability and interpretation of the residuary clause or other provisions of Lonesome George’s Will, but it does appear that he failed to seek estate planning advice.)
Had Lonesome George failed to leave a Will and was resident in Ontario at the time of his death, the distribution of his Estate would have been governed by the intestacy provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”).
The rarely applied section 47(7) of the SLRA provides that where a person – again, kindly disregard for the purposes of this blog that a tortoise does not have such status – “dies intestate in respect of property and there is no surviving spouse, issue, parent, brother, sister, nephew, niece or next of kin, the property becomes the property of the Crown, and the Escheats Act applies.”
The Escheats Act provides that the Public Guardian and Trustee may then take possession of the estate assets in the name of the Crown.
Read Toronto Estate Law Blog