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  • Writer's pictureEmma Aslett

Wills & Probate | Can A Pet Receive An Inheritance?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Karl Lagerfeld, the former Creative Director at Chanel, died in 2019. He left his cat, Choupette, a reported $1.5m, and Choupette is now being cared for by Lagerfeld’s former housekeeper.

This begs the question – can you leave an inheritance to a pet?

Technically speaking, a pet is a personal chattel (i.e. personal possessions, which can also include, for example, vehicles, furniture, collectables, clothing etc) unless the pet is a working animal in which they may then become a business asset however they still remain property and you cannot leave an inheritance to property.

You may have watched Gunter’s Millions on Netflix this year which is a docuseries that tells the story of a German Shepherd, Gunther, who received a $400m inheritance, making him the richest dog in the world.

Well, there is more to THAT story but I would be here all day telling it and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who did want to watch the series…

One way in which to leave an asset to a pet is through a trust, a bit like Gunther’s story, for the maintenance and welfare of the animals.

Trusts are set up and the money is paid to the legatee, who is to act as a nominated trustee, of the trust but there are certain rules in which the legatee must act i.e. use the funds for the benefit of the pet. If those rules are not abided by, then the trust fails.

You could also leave the pet (the personal chattel) to a person along with a cash gift, asking them to care for your pet and use that gift towards the pet. However, this would be putting a lot of trust into someone. There is no one to check that the gift has been managed correctly for the benefit of the pet, as a trust would have.

You may be reading this thinking that this must be a rarity… it may be, but it does happen!

A lady named Leona Helmsley who was a billionaire hotelier (who also owned the Empire State Building) left the majority of her $8bn estate as part of a trust to care for her dogs. There was a specific trust fund of $12m for her Maltese dog, Trouble.

Leona Helmsley disinherited two of her grandchildren however, they later contested the Will, and they settled with $6m from Trouble’s estate.

Further, a couple, Maureen and Reginald McLean, prepared mirror Wills in 2017 in which they left their estates between their four children. Three of those children were from Reginald’s first marriage and one child was from Maureen and Reginald’s marriage.

Reginald passed away in 2019 and Maureen subsequently changed her Will and left the entire estate to her son (i.e. excluding the children from Reginald’s first marriage).

Maureen passed away and the three stepchildren are challenging Maureen’s Will. Maureen’s biological son, however, claimed that Maureen wanted him to have the estate in order to look after her parrot.

Well, the Court upheld the decision but it is being appealed.

The topic of leaving pets an inheritance is a really interesting topic and one that, no doubt, will continue to educate us all.

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The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute professional advice and you should take full and comprehensive legal, accountancy or financial advice as appropriate on your individual circumstances by a fully qualified Solicitor, Accountant or Financial Advisor/Mortgage Broker before you embark on any course of action.


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