What Happens When a Pet Is Left Money in a Will?

Cats can live large thanks to pet trusts.
Cats can live large thanks to pet trusts.
Arseniy45/iStock via Getty Images

When iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died at age 85 in 2019, he left a portion of his $300 million fortune to longtime companion Choupette. The female Burmese cat will, presumably, eat only the fanciest of feasts for the duration of her well-heeled life.

But Lagerfeld is not the only decedent to make sure a furry friend stands to benefit from their wealth. An increasing number of people are making sure there are provisions to provide for pets in the event of their death. But can a person legally leave money to an animal?

Technically, no. “An animal is legally considered property,” Alice JaKyung Choi, an estate planning lawyer at Novick & Associates in New York City, tells Mental Floss. By law, a person cannot will their property to an animal because that animal is also considered property. They would instead have to include a provision in their will that sets aside a certain amount of money for the care of their pet.

While legal, this isn’t typically recommended by lawyers, as there’s no real oversight to make sure whoever is taking care of the animal would use the funds exclusively for the animal’s benefit.

There is a better solution. “It is advisable to set up a pet trust if you want to make sure that your pet’s needs are met,” Choi says.

A pet trust offers a system of checks and balances that ensures the pet’s needs will be addressed. In a trust, the beneficiary—the dog, cat, parrot, or other animal—would receive the benefits of the money under the oversight of the trustee, the person named as the distributor of the funds. The trustee would deliver that money to the caretaker, or person looking after the pet. Either the trustee or someone named as the enforcer of the trust has the legal right to supervise the caretaker and make sure the money is being used as intended. The decedent, or testator, can also specify a residual beneficiary that would get the remaining funds after a pet has died. That might be a charity or the caretaker.

While a trust offers greater peace of mind than simply leaving money in a will, there’s still potential for abuse. A caretaker could, in theory, buy a replacement pet if the original one dies, so that they could continue to receive whatever financial benefits were allotted in exchange for taking care of the animal.

Sometimes relatives might question the amount committed to a pet. When controversial real estate magnate Leona Helmsley died in 2007, she left $12 million to her dog, a Maltese named Trouble. Helmsley’s human relatives protested. A judge eventually reduced Trouble’s windfall to a mere $2 million.

“If the relatives have standing to challenge, then they can challenge anything on the grounds that the testator in a will or a grantor in the trust did not have mental capacity, [had] undue influence, [that] the document was not duly executed, [or that there was] fraud, duress or forgery,” Choi says. “It will be very case-specific.”

Choi estimates that about 10 percent of her clients make provisions for pets in their wills or estate planning. “I don’t think it is for lack of love or care, but because the will [or] trust goes into effect probably years after you have executed it, unless you are creating it when you are sick or very old. Therefore, it is likely the specific pet that you refer to may not be around when [it] goes into effect.”

Pet owners who care for turtles or birds should probably consider planning in advance, as it’s quite possible they could outlive their human friends. In any case, Choi says it’s best to establish a trust and appoint a caretaker so funds can be used to make sure your pet’s needs are met. A pet trust can be included as part of a will for as little as $100 in some states.

If a pet isn’t mentioned in a will or other legal document, it could wind up in a shelter. “If nothing is mentioned in your will regarding your pet, then it would be subject to the executor’s discretion and what is in the best interest of the estate, not the pet,” she says. “A pet trust guarantees what the testator wanted for the pet and gives authority [and] funds to the trustee to execute the testator’s wishes for the pet.”

As for who’s more likely to coddle their pet with a posthumous pile of money, dog or cat owners, Choi can only observe what’s she seen in her practice. “Honestly, I think they are about the same. Although I personally, without hard evidence, slightly believe that it leans more toward dog owners.”

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13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads


When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Tear Gas vs. Pepper Spray: What’s the Difference?

This is probably pepper spray.
This is probably pepper spray.
Siberian Photographer/iStock via Getty Images

Pepper spray and tear gas are both non-lethal irritants that cause extreme burning of the eyes, nose, and throat—but there are a few key differences between the two substances.

For one, they’re created from different chemicals. According to biohazard remediation company Aftermath, the active ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum, which comes from the compound that makes hot peppers so hot: capsaicin. If you’ve ever accidentally rubbed your eyes after chopping a chili pepper, you’ve gotten a very tiny taste of what it’s like to be sprayed with pepper spray. Tear gas, on the other hand, contains 0-Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS), 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CN), or a similar artificial chemical. At room temperature, both of those chemicals are powdery solids, not gases—they’re mixed with liquids or gases so they can be dispersed in the air.

Delivery methods differ, too. Pepper spray often comes in an aerosol can, which shoots it in a stream, a mist, or some other relatively direct path (though it’s also available as a gel or foam). As the Berkeley Science Review explains, tear gas is mainly dispersed with a grenade, which releases the substance over a wide area when it explodes. Since the grenades can cover so much ground, law enforcement officers are more likely to use tear gas to try to break up a crowd, and civilians are more likely to carry pepper spray as a personal safety measure.

The immediate effects of the two substances are similar—burning sensation in mucous membranes, rise in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, runny nose, etc.—but tear gas can also cause nausea and vomiting in higher concentrations.

For more on tear gas, including what to do if you’re exposed to it, head here.

[h/t Aftermath]