Should Pets Inherit?

Frances H. Foster | 63 Florida Law Review 801 (2011)  

On August 20, 2007, billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley died, survived by her brother, four grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, and her beloved companion of eight years, a white Maltese dog named Trouble. One week later came news that shocked the world. Helmsley left $12 million to Trouble. Across the globe, reporters, readers, lawyers, and law professors alike greeted the news with outrage and derision. Critics called the legacy “obscene,” “ridiculous,” and, as lawyer Mickey Sherman put it, “an amazing waste of money.” In a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, a Rochester woman expressed her disgust at Helmsley’s decision, noting that the $12 million “could have provided 100 homeless families a house or 100 deserving kids a college education[,] . . . feed a small nation or served thousands of neglected children.” A University of Texas columnist reminded her readers that dogs are “notoriously bad money managers [and] . . . lack the opposable thumbs necessary to use a calculator or the computer skills to do their banking online.” However, Helmsley’s long-time rival, Donald Trump, provided a very different perspective. On hearing the news of Trouble’s $12 million inheritance, he released the following statement: ‘“The dog is the only thing that loved her and deserves every single penny of it.”’ Helmsley’s former housekeeper, Zamfira Sfara, was also not shocked by Trouble’s good fortune. Indeed, she reported that the bond between Helmsley and Trouble was so close that when Helmsley left her hotel penthouse, “[t]he dog would stay by the door, lying on the floor for three hours, waiting for her to come. It never moved.” This Article argues that Trouble—and the millions of American pets like her —should inherit. For many Americans today, their pets, not their human family members, are their nearest and dearest. more...