More and more people are choosing to leave their fortunes to pets.
In a presentation at the School of Law on Tuesday, Adrienne Davis, vice provost of Washington University in Saint Louis, explained the growing trend of pet inheritance and the legal challenges it involves.
Davis studies irregular intimacy involved in polygamy, pet inheritance and racial and feminist theories and is especially interested in “people who have these attachments that other people don’t understand.”
Since 1923, when the first case of pet inheritance was upheld in the United States, many pets have become rich upon their owners’ demise, Davis said
Legal issues involved in pet inheritance are gaining attention at an important time when 12 to 27 percent of pet owners have pet provision in their wills.
In one case, owner Leona Helmsley intended to leave $12 million to her terrier dog Trouble. However, lawyers were faced with the challenge of finding a caretaker for the dog.
Trouble’s inheritance was eventually reduced to $2 million following legal troubles. Additionally, Helmsley’s desire to have Trouble buried in the family mausoleum was prevented by laws against burying pets and humans together.
The case of Helmsley and Trouble received media attention because of the large amount of money involved and its demonstration of unstable pet inheritance laws.
As Davis said, “in inheritance law, there’s no do-over.” Therefore, those who plan pet inheritance into their wills should take precautions such as outlines for checking on the pet’s wellness, immediate provisions for care, funding and animal identification.
The phenomenon is also engendering outrage in those who do not understand how a pet could need millions of dollars or why a pet is valued more than a child.
“The outrage is not unlike the way people get upset about other forms of irregular intimacy such as gay marriage or polygamy,” Davis said.
The truth is that many owners pamper their pets with gifts, treats, clothing and other unimaginable luxuries. For lawyers and pet owners, Davis said, this means that pet inheritance laws need to be more closely examined.
Matt Diton, a second-year law student, explained that he attended Davis’ presentation because he was interested in the legal side of pet inheritance cases.
“I had heard about some of the stories in the news and wanted to learn about the legal qualifications of them,” Diton said.
These stories stretch from the previously deceased Alexander McQueen and Leona Helmsley to living celebrities like Betty White and Oprah who have already indicated their plans to leave money for their dogs.