Leaving Money to Pets Isn’t as Uncommon as You Think

When people take in animals as pets, they become responsible for the well-being of these creatures. But more than that, people should love their pets. When they do, pet owners often go to amazing lengths to show their devotion to their animal companions. A lot of people settle with showcasing their pets on their social media accounts, and some shower their pets with expensive treats and trinkets.

Sometimes, pets can be a part of a person’s family. When this happens, the metaphor can become a reality when the pet is included in someone’s last will and testament. Sometimes, they get to inherit millions.

Bequeathing to Beasts

Although hearing that a relative has left their beloved pet a fortune might send some people to consult with an experienced probate attorney, legal professionals can tell them that leaving behind enormous sums of money to pets isn’t as uncommon as they might think. Many rich people have bequeathed animals their life’s earnings before, some in the recent past.

Eleanor Ritchey was the heiress to the Quaker State Refining Company. She had no children, but she did adopt a lot of dogs during her life. When she passed away in 1968, her will stated that her 150 dogs would inherit her estate. However, she also stipulated that when the last of her canine companions passed away, the remainder of the money would pass on to the School of Veterinary Science of Auburn University. When the last of the Ritchey’s dogs died, Auburn University became $12 million richer.

Ritchey at least had a clause that allowed the money to pass on to an altruistic clause, but this was not the case when the infamous Leona Helmsley died in 2007. Christened the “Queen of Mean” by the media for her tyrannical disposition, the hotelier left behind $8 billion for the welfare of her dogs. Though this seems a charitable act, the first draft of Helmsley’s will had included the impoverished before she removed them from the document in favor of canines.  She also excluded her two grandchildren from the will. Meanwhile, her beloved Maltese dog, named Trouble, inherited $12 million, but the courts reduced this amount to a still-considerable $2 million. Before this reduction, Trouble had to go into hiding with a security detail to protect her from abduction and assassination.

These are two high profile cases, but other animals that have become millionaires in the past include Mac and George, two dogs who were the trusted companions of a prune farmer. When he died, the dogs inherited his estate and his position at company meetings. The two dogs would attend conferences with the officials of the company after his passing.

How it Works

Small dog and middle age woman.

Obviously, a pet with millions to their name can’t spend it by themselves. So who spends the money? A pet trust works just like any other trust fund. A trustee controls the money and chooses what to spend the money on. There’s a caretaker for the animal who actually handles the pet’s day-to-day welfare and asks the trustee for funds. Finally, an enforcer oversees that the trustee and the caretaker are using the money as intended by the deceased, rather than on personal desires. Like with normal trust funds, details are important, and a pet owner who wishes to leave their animal something in their will should explore every contingency while crafting the document.

Animals do deserve to be cared for and loved. But how far should this love extend when it comes to fortunes? Perhaps people should ask themselves whether or not any noteworthy causes or advocacies could use the resources to create a better world than the one they’re leaving behind.

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