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.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar


Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Are Halloween Pumpkins Edible?

Diane Helentjaris, Unsplash
Diane Helentjaris, Unsplash

When people visit their local family-owned pumpkin patch around Halloween, they aren’t usually looking for dinner. The majority of the nearly 2 billion pounds of pumpkins cultivated in the U.S. each year are carved up instead of eaten, making the squash a unique part of the agriculture industry. For people who prefer seasonal recipes to decorations, that may raise a few questions: Are the pumpkins sold for jack-o’-lanterns different from pumpkins sold as food? And are Halloween pumpkins any good to eat?

The pumpkins available at farms and outside supermarkets during October are what most people know, but that’s just one type of pumpkin. Howden pumpkins are the most common decorative pumpkin variety. They’ve been bred specifically for carving into jack-o’-lanterns, with a symmetrical round shape, deep orange color, and sturdy stem that acts as a handle. Shoppers looking for the perfect carving pumpkin have other options as well: the Racer, Magic Wand, Zeus, Hobbit, Gold Rush, and Connecticut field pumpkin varieties are all meant to be displayed on porch steps for Halloween.

Because they’re bred to be decoration first, carving pumpkins don’t taste very good. They have walls that are thin enough to poke a cheap knife through and a texture that’s unappealing compared to the squashes consumers are used to eating. “Uncut carving pumpkins are safe to eat; however, it's not the best type to use for cooking,” Daria McKelvey, a supervisor for the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tells Mental Floss. “Carving pumpkins are grown for their large size, not the flavor. Their flesh can be bland and the fibers are very stringy.”

To get the best-tasting pumpkins possible this autumn, you’re better off avoiding the seasonal supermarket displays. Many pumpkin varieties are bred especially for cooking and eating. These include Sugar Pie, Kabocha, Jack-Be-Little, Ghost Rider, Hubbard, Jarrahdale, Baby Pam, and Cinderella pumpkins. You can shop for these varieties by name at local farms or in the produce section of your grocery store. They should be easy to tell apart from the carving pumpkins available for Halloween: Unlike decorative pumpkins, cooking pumpkins are small and dense. This is part of the reason they taste better. McKelvey says. “[Cooking pumpkins] are smaller, sweeter, have a thicker rind (meatier), and have less fibers, making them easier to cook with—but not so good for carving.” These pumpkins can be stuffed, blended into soup, or simply roasted.

If you do want to get some culinary use out of your carving pumpkins this Halloween, set aside the seeds when scooping out the guts. Roasted with seasonings and olive oil, seeds (or pepitas) from different pumpkin varieties become a tasty and nutritious snack. Another option is to turn the flesh of your Halloween pumpkin into purée. Adding sugar and spices and baking it into a dessert can do a lot to mask the fruit’s underwhelming flavor and consistency.

Whatever you do, make sure your pumpkin isn’t carved up already when you decide to cook with it. There are many ways to recycle your jack-o’-lanterns, but turning them into pie isn’t one of them. "If one does plan on cooking with a carving pumpkin, it should be intact,” McKelvey says. “Never use one that's been carved into a jack-o'-lantern, otherwise you could be dealing with bacteria, dirt and dust, and other little critters.”