Man With 5 Kids Leaves House, $250K Estate to His 2 Cats - Legally Weird
Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Man With 5 Kids Leaves House, $250K Estate to His 2 Cats

A Tennessee man left a large chunk of his estate to his two cats, and not to his five human children.

Leon Sheppard, 79, of Memphis, passed away in December 2012, but in his will left $250,000 and his 4,200-square-foot home to his two cats Frisco and Jake, Memphis' WMC-TV reports. (When reached by phone, one of Sheppard's children told WMC the family didn't want to talk about it.)

Can you really leave that much money to cats in your will?

Sheppard's Will is Valid, Lawyer Says

In general, most states do not allow a testator -- someone who creates a will -- to leave property to their pets. Pets are not people and under the law cannot themselves own property.

However, as Attorney Randy Fishman told WMC-TV, it is legally possible to leave property and money for the benefit of cats Frisco and Jake, using a "pet trust." Some states recognize the right of persons to create trusts with pets as the primary beneficiaries. These estate planning devices are similar to charitable trusts, where the trust funds are held for the benefit of a charitable or altruistic purpose, but instead the purpose is to care for certain pet animals until their deaths.

Only a few states recognize pet trusts as legal, but Tennessee happens to be one of them. Sheppard's will placed his home and $250,000 in assets into a pet trust that dictates the money and house are to be held for the benefit of the felines until the elder cat, Frisco, dies.

At that point, the trust would release the home and its assets to Sheppard's human heirs, who would need to provide for Jake's care, WMC reports.

Other Famous Pet Estates

Sheppard isn't the only animal lover who wanted to ensure his pets were taken care of after his death. The late hotel owner Leona Helmsley famously left her multimillion dollar estate to a trust created "for the benefit of dogs." However, after her trustees were done fighting in court, only a small fraction of her millions went to dog care.

In another example, the remainder of a Texas man's estate -- including collectibles and furniture -- which was not claimed by his heirs was instead sold off to pay for the care of his dog "Lucky." Like with Sheppard's cat Frisco, when Lucky dies, the man's heirs will inherit whatever remains of his estate.

If you plan on leaving your pets a feline fortune, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure your final wishes are enforceable.

Follow FindLaw for Consumers on Facebook and Twitter (@FindLawConsumer).

Related Resources: