Can you leave it all to your cat? Pet beneficiaries explained0
Somewhere in Germany, there is a dog with more money than most of us could ever dream of.
Gunther IV owns property in three countries. He spends afternoons by his private pool. He summers in the Bahamas. He has a butler, and a maid, and a limo. He apparently lives with a team of supermodels.
Gunther IV has all this because German Countess Karlotta Leibenstein left her entire $80 million fortune to her dog, Gunther III. Who left it to his son.
Now, most pet owners would deem this a bit extreme. After years of letting the cat out, and in, and out again (ad nauseum), he really owes you — right?
But some of us do wonder: could I do that?
Can you leave your entire fortune to your pet(s)?
If you’re reading this in the UK, the answer is … sort of.
You can’t directly leave all your money to your cat, or dog, like you would a normal human beneficiary. In UK law, a pet is a possession, not a person (don’t look at me like that, I don’t make the rules).
But that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure your furry (or feathered, or scaly) friend will live in style without you. Here are the options.
What they don’t know is that you can do the same thing with your pets.
It’s a standard service we offer here at Beyond. When you make your will, you can pick someone to take in your beloved pet. Someone you trust to give them the love (and constant door opening) they need.
You can also leave your chosen guardian funds and equipment to help them in their new role of pet-parent. After all, pets can be pricey. The lifetime cost of owning a cat is £17,000, and dogs can cost us up to £31,000 over the years.
For most people, the pet guardian option is perfect (purrfect?). It means your pet will go to a loving home, rather than a shelter. And it prevents vicious family debates over their eventual fate.
But for others, something more tail-ored is required.
Pet trusts are relatively new to the UK, but they’re catching on fast.
A pet trust is a pot of money that can only be used to pay for your pet’s care after you die. You choose a carer, and lay out a set of things the money can be spent on (vet’s fees, food, etc.) You also choose trustees. Their job is to make sure the money is actually spent on your pet, and not on holidays in Bali.
When your pet joins you in the great beyond, the remaining money goes to your chosen beneficiary.
Now, pet trusts can be complicated to set up. Compared to naming guardians in your will, it’s a more expensive option. But if you’re interested, we recommend talking to our complex wills team. They’ll be able to help you out.
Interested in setting up a pet trust? No problem. Call our complex wills team on 0800 054 9793.
As you can see, making sure your pet will be cared for is easy.
But if you want to leave everything to them — the whole shebang — there can be issues.
Basically, your disgruntled relatives can (and probably will) dispute the will.
While they likely won’t be able to snatch the whole fortune back, they can claim “reasonable financial provision”. So, if you don’t want them to drag poor old Fluffy to court, it’s best to leave at least something to your human loved ones.
The long and short of it
So, here it is in a nutshell. You can’t bequeath your dog or cat (or lizard) money in your will. But you can appoint guardians or set up a trust for them instead.
If you do this, maybe don’t leave everything to your pets. After all, what would a dog do with all that money?
Death! Suffering! Elaborate old-timey insults!Sure, you can make a will for nice, kind reasons. Support your family. Choose a home for your cat. Give to charities. But why do that, when you can settle some old scores? Stay tuned for five wills that served up a revenge as cold as the grave…
1) The legacy of bitterness
Michigan lumber tycoon and owner of a pun-worthy name, Wellington Burt died in 1919 with a hefty fortune under his belt (or should we say, tucked into his Wellington Burts?). A multimillionaire philanthropist in life, Burt was expected to make his family and his town very wealthy indeed upon his death.
But it wasn’t to be: reputedly smarting from a nasty family spat, Burt instead left the bulk of his fortune in a trust fund, not to be opened until 21 years after the death of his last grandchild.
As the years went by, Burt’s six children, seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren have all died without seeing a penny. Meanwhile, the trust fund has grown to an estimated $100m. Relatives who finally inherited in 2011 described it as a “legacy of bitterness,” having watched family members pass away still fruitlessly hoping to claim that fortune.
2) The final regret
For 15 years, German essayist and poet Heinrich Heine had a very volatile relationship with his wife, Mathilde. But when he fell ill, she stayed at his bedside to the very end – and received a somewhat ambiguous reward.
Heine left Mathilde a legacy, alright, but only if she remarried. His reasoning? “Because then, at least one man will regret my death.” Ouch.
3) The father-in-law’s revenge
Son-in-laws: can’t live with them, can’t guilt someone into putting shelves up around the house without them. In 1908, Garvey P. White’s used his will to take a parting shot at his daughter’s unfortunate husband:
“Before anything else is to be done, 50 cents is to be given to my son-in-law to enable himself to buy a good strong rope with which to hang himself, and thus rid mankind of one of the most infamous scoundrels that ever roamed this broad land or lived outside a penitentiary.”
One has to wonder what the son-in-law did to deserve it.
4) The bells, the bells
Another disgruntled husband here: Colonel Charles Nash used his will to leave an annuity of $50 to the bellringers of Bath Abbey.
But there were conditions: the bellringers had to clang out a mournful funerary toll on the anniversary of his marriage. They also had to ring the bells merrily on the anniversary of his death – celebrating his liberation from married life.
But when family and friends arrived and gathered around the coffin, the entire floor came down – killing almost everyone present. It later turned out that the man had painstakingly sawed most of the way through the beams of his house. Perhaps he didn’t want to be seen dead in their company.
Make your own vengeful will today
Have your own score to settle? You can make a will today on Beyond in just 15 minutes. It costs just £90, or £135 if you and your partner would like to plan your vengeance together. Start making your will today.
Don’t forget! Pay 20% more for your vengeful will using the offer code VENGEANCEISMINE at checkout – you big meanie.
What’s the best reason to make a will? To protect your family? Safeguard a legacy? Or is it, perhaps, to cause a little mischief?
If you’re leaning towards that last reason, you’re not alone: there’s no shortage of bizarre bequests on record. So, to inspire you and celebrate the launch of our own free online will service, we’ve put together a round-up of the weirdest wills we could find.
Then again, perhaps you too would like …
To be cremated and kept in a Pringle tube
Once you pop, you just can’t … think of a better final resting place? Fred Baur invented the original Pringle tube – and was so proud that he used his will to request that he be cremated and buried in one. Baur’s children say they obliged:
“My siblings and I briefly debated what flavour to use … but I said, ‘Look, we need to use the original.’” – Fred’s son Larry Baur.
To disinherit your son if he ever grows a mustache
Mr Henry Budd hated moustaches. A lot. So much, in fact, that he left a note in his will specifying that if either one of his sons grew a ‘tache, they would immediately forfeit the right to inherit Budd’s £200,000 estate.
“In case my son Edward shall wear moustaches, then the devise herein before contained in favour of him, his appointees, heirs, and assigns, of my said estate called ‘Pepper Park’, shall be void.” – Henry Budd.
Luckily for Henry, he died in 1862, thereby missing out on the recent facial hair renaissance in his hometown of Brixton.
To give £26,000 to Jesus Christ – if He can prove His identity
Norman Earnest Digweed’s 1897 will promised a substantial reward to Jesus Christ upon his return … on the condition that He convince the executors of the estate that He’s the real deal. We’re guessing that a beard and robes wouldn’t have cut it.
To pass on $50,000 for the Zink Womanless Library
Iowa lawyer TM Zink disliked women with such intensity that he left $50,000 in a trust to fund the “Zink Womanless Library”. Stocked solely with books written by men, the library was to have “No Women Admitted” signs at every entrance.
“My intense hatred of women is not of recent origin or development nor based upon any personal differences I ever had with them but is the result of my experiences with women, observations of them and study of all literatures and philosophical works.” – TM Zink.
Sadly for Zink and bookish misogynists everywhere, his family contested the will after his death in 1930 and the library has yet to appear.
To request a fitting funeral for the “King of Smokers”
Affluent Dutch tradesman Mr. Klass was known as the “King of the Smokers” in his lifetime. So when it came to writing his will, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he made a few smoke-related requests. More than a few, in fact:
that all the smokers in the country be invited to his funeral;
that everyone at his funeral be given memorial pipes engraved with his name, plus tobacco;
that the pipes be kept alight throughout the funeral service, then emptied out onto the coffin;
that his oak coffin be lined with the wood of his cigar boxes; and
to be buried with his favourite pipe, along with a box of matches, a flint, steel and some tinder, as “there was no knowing what might happen”.
To be turned into a nifty drum kit
In 1871, hatmaker S Sanborn’s will turned out to include a bizarre request: that two drums were to be made from his skin and given to a friend. Sanborn also specified that the friend was to use the drums to play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on Bunker Hill every year on June 17th.
To be turned into a Frisbee
Think you’re a hardcore Frisbee fan? You’ll never out-fan “Steady” Ed Headrick, the inventor who not only perfected the Frisbee, but also chose to become one. Headrick used his will to request that his ashes be placed inside a limited run of Frisbees for friends and relatives.
“When we die, we don’t go to Purgatory. We just land up on the roof and lay there.” – Ed Headrick.
The will states that any left-over memorial Frisbees be sold to raise funds for a Frisbee museum. In fact, if you want to help Ed out, you can buy one of your own here.
To be contacted via an annual séance
Famous magician Harry Houdini died on Halloween, so it’s perhaps fitting that his will was a little bit creepy. Houdini requested that his wife hold a séance each year on the anniversary of his death to check whether he could contact her from beyond the grave.
So far, so spooky. But (being a lifelong sceptic and dedicated debunker of fraudulent mediums) Houdini also gave his wife a secret 10-letter code so that she could make sure it was really him. So far, no luck, although Houdini fans are still trying.
To leave $750,000 to the winner of the “Great Stork Derby” …
Eccentric Canadian lawyer Charles Vance Millar became posthumously famous when he bequeathed the residue of his estate to “the Mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children.”
This unusual bequest might have been forgotten by time, were it not for the fact that shares worth $2 at the time of Millar’s death in 1926 skyrocketed in value. By the time the deadline was reached, the estate was worth a life-changing $750,000: about $10.7 million in today’s money.
The media dubbed the bequest “The Great Stork Derby”, and the race was followed avidly until it ended in a tie between four women with nine children each.
… and pull other pranks
Charles Vance Millar’s will included other mischievous bequests. A Jamaican holiday home was given to three lawyers who notoriously hated each other. Highly valuable Ontario Jockey Club shares were bequeathed to men who had been vocally opposed to racetrack betting. Catholic brewery shares were given to anti-drink Protestant ministers.
Beneficiaries agonising over whether they should accept these “immoral” bequests would eventually come up against a final catch: most of the shares were worth very little – or weren’t owned by Millar in the first place.
To build an epic mansion for cats
How much do you love your cat? Enough to provide for them in your will? Probably. Enough to leave money for the construction of an elaborate cat mansion?
Again, probably – but not everyone has the means.
In the late 19th century, Jonathan Jackson did: he set aside considerable funds in this will for the creation of a huge “cat house”.
The sprawling feline estate was to include bedrooms, a dining room, exercise grounds, rat holes for sport, and an auditorium where the cats could listen to “accordion music”, which as everyone knows is the preferred music of cats.
To give your cat imported baby food and an arranged marriage
Dusty Springfield’s pet cat Nicholas was less lucky. The “I Only Want to Be with You” singer stated in her will that the 13 year old feline was to be fed only on imported British baby food.
Slightly more appealing purrks of this unusual arrangement were: a “7-foot indoor tree house” lined with scratch pads and catnip; a daily serenade of some of Springfield’s greatest hits; and “marriage” to a younger female cat owned by Nicholas’ new guardian.
To give someone a ye olde insult
The fifth Earl of Pembroke used his 17th century will to take a sly jab at Cromwell:
“I give to the Lieutenant-General Cromwell one of my words … which he must want, seeing as he hath never kept one of his own.” – Philip, fifth Earl of Pembroke.
To be used as a stage prop in Hamlet
Dying to tread the boards? You wouldn’t be the first. In the mid-19th century, veteran stagehand John “Pop” Reed successfully bequeathed his skull to the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia for use in the famous “Alas, poor Yorick” scene in Hamlet:
“My head to be separated from my body immediately after my death; the latter to be buried in a grave; the former, duly macerated and prepared, to be brought to the theatre, where I have served all my life, and to be employed to represent the skull of Yorick—and to this end I bequeath my head to the properties.” – John Reed.
Reed was not the last person to make this slightly macabre bequest. Audiences who went to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet in 2008 were later surprised to learn that Yorick had been “played” by famous Polish concert pianist André Tchaikowsky.
But not every bequest has to be followed. In life, actor Jonathan Hartman never made it into an RSC production. So, he too bequeathed his skull to the company … and was turned down. As the Independent noted at the time, “Even after death a rejection slip awaits Mr Hartman.”
The 1891 will stipulated that a meal for four was to be served each night in case Bowman and his family were peckish after their journey from the other side. This clause was apparently upheld until 1950, when the money ran out.
To hand over your birthday
Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson bequeathed 12-year-old Annie Ide something worth more to her than gold: his birthday.
Knowing that Ide (perhaps understandably) hated having a birthday on Christmas Day, and having “no further use for a birthday”, Stevenson gave her his own. Stevenson did have conditions, however:
“I charge her to use my said birthday with moderation and humanity … the said birthday not being so young as it once was and having carried me in a very satisfactory manner since I can remember.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Were Ide to contravene these terms, the birthday would pass to the President of the United States “for the time being”. Luckily, she never did, and the birthday is still in the family today.
Ready to make your own?
Not every will needs to be this complicated. With our online will service, you can make a simple will online in just 10 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to make a sandwich (a good one, at least).
Do you have a weird will story? We’d love to hear it. Tell us in the comments below.