Some rich people give their fortune to their relatives, often On One Condition, and some leave their fortune to charity. Then there are the eccentric types who leave their money to their beloved dog, cat, fancy rat, or whatever other critter it might be that they treated like a pet.
That's the concept behind the Pet Heir plot. Hilarity Ensues as the new caretakers of the pet struggle to keep the pet alive despite the efforts of unscrupulous sorts, that is, Inadequate Inheritors who are next in line to inherit should "anything unfortunate" happen to the pet in question.
There are cases of Truth in Television for this trope, oddly enough. Or not so oddly, if the pet in question is long-lived, like a parrot.
Comparable to Caligula's Horse, where the person not only gives their inheritance to their pets, they even give them senior positions in jobs.
- The board game 13 Dead End Drive is about heirs in line to inherit the late Aunt Agatha's fortune trying to bump each other off in a booby trap-filled mansion, and escape while they're the current heir. One of the playable characters is, you guessed it, the old lady's cat. In the revised version, getting the cat out of the house will give you a game-winning advantage.
- David Cross had a hilarious bit once about rich people who die and leave their vast fortunes to their cats.
"And all my money goes to Miss Cinderella, so she can live in luxury, like the princess she is. Also, fuck the homeless."
- Subverted in The Frantics sketch "Last Will and Temperament". After the will's executor bequeaths inheritances (mostly consisting of boots to the head) to the surviving family members, the will goes on to state that the deceased leaves his cat his entire, vast... boot to the head. Cue agonized meow. The rest of the fortune actually goes to "The people of Calgary, so that they can afford to move someplace decent."
- The Lucky Luke comic The Inheritance of Rantanplan has the guard dog Rantanplan inherit a fortune from a former convict, and becomes a target for the Dalton Brothers since Joe Dalton is next in line.
- Garfield: In the November 1, 2001 strip, Jon remarks on how some people treat their pets like children. Garfield's response of "So... Dad. Do you have a will?" implies that he expects to be this.
- Pooch Café: Poncho's brother Orlando is this, having inherited a vast fortune from his deceased owner, an oil baron.
- What's New? with Phil and Dixie: Parodied in one strip where 3000-year-old wizard Urza dies and leaves his vast fortune and holdings to his cats. There is some litigation expected from his thousands of children, but the fact that "Urza's Cats" are ten-meter-tall cybernetic killing machines might complicate things.
- In The Aristocats, the title felines are to be the main beneficiaries of their owner's will in order to keep them looked after. Edgar, the butler, eavesdrops on the conversation and then decides to try to off the cats in question as he was to receive the rest when the cats died. Incidentally, it did "address" the issue of him just waiting for the cats to die: he assumes that each cat really has nine lives. And that the four cats will live consecutively. (He's not very bright.) And yet, she implies at the end that she meant to leave the butler a sizable sum himself.
- In The Fearless Four, Aunt Wanda combines this with On One Condition: her estate goes to her family, but only if they take care of her cat Gwendolyn, who inherited Aunt Wanda's "treasure", a pair of incredibly valuable jewels. The family decides to kill Gwendolyn when they get tired of caring for her and frustrated that she won't tell them where the jewels are.
- In Millionaire Dogs, a woman left her fortune to her several animals while her nephew and her niece got nothing. The evil duo then tricked the animals out of the house and tried to keep them out for 48 hours in a row so they could invoke an obscure law to claim the inheritance to themselves.
- This is the reason a rich woman is murdered by her servants in Once Upon A Crime.
- In the film Gordy, an old man disinherits his daughter in favor of a talking pig because of her decision to become a model. This happens just after the pig and his human friend have wrecked her career by innocently causing her trap for them to backfire.
- Quite a few live-action Disney films, especially from between the original Disney and Michael Eisner, do this.
- The 1951 film You Never Can Tell started with a dog inheriting a fortune and immediately being killed and his caretaker suspected. The dog's spirit is sent back to earth as a "humanimal", detective Rex Shepherd (Dick Powell), to, errr sniff out the crime.
- Garfield: Garfield's Identical Stranger in the second Movie is this.
- The Richest Cat in the World: Oscar Kohlmeyer left five million dollars to his cat Leo. Oscar's nephew would receive twenty-five thousand dollars if he didn't contest the will. Of course, Leo is a particularly special kind of cat. He can talk for one thing, and is also as smart as a human. In fact, it is his advice that got Oscar his millions in the first place. However, the only people who knows about this are (were?) Oscar, and later on some kids that Leo befriends.
- In The Uncanny, Miss Malkin cuts her spendthrift nephew out of her will and leaves her entire fortune to her cats.
- This is what kicks off the plot of the Mexican movie El miedo no anda en burro (Fear doesn't Ride a Donkey) starring la India Maria. At the beginning of the film, Maria, who had been working as a maid in the house of a wealthy matriarch is fired and evicted by her greedy relatives after the matriarch dies, and force her to take the matriarch's dog. They soon rush over to the lawyer's office to collect their inheritance, only to be told that the matriarch considered them too greedy and selfish to get her fortune and instead, she left everything to her little dog, with Maria acting as its regent. The rest of the film revolves around the relatives trying to scare Maria to death so they can get a hold of the dog and the fortune.
- In Soul Music, one of Susan's first "customers" as acting Death is a grumpy old man who leaves his fortune to his cat instead of his ungrateful, parasitic relatives. Of course, he hates the cat too, so he doesn't set it up any kind of protection from said relatives.
- This forms a major part of the plot in Making Money. At the beginning of the book, Topsy Lavish owns 50% of the shares in the Ankh-Morpork Royal Bank, and her dog Mr. Fusspot owns exactly one share, the result of an eccentric bequest from her late husband. Mrs. Lavish then dies (she was quite old), bequeaths all her shares to Mr. Fusspot... and leaves the dog to Moist von Lipwig, with a note that Moist will be targeted by the Assassins' Guild if Moist should decline to take care of the dog. It turns out, though, that Mrs. Lavish was quite a canny operator using "eccentricity" as a cover to get what she wanted. If she'd left the shares directly to Moist, the will would have been challenged by her money-hungry relatives, and Moist can't be chairman of the bank because he already runs the Mint (which would be a conflict of interest), but there's long legal precedent for rich old ladies leaving money to beloved pets. Her provisional contract with the Assassins' Guild even provides Moist with protection against the money-hungry relatives, as they won't accept competing contracts on the same target, and they won't accept one on Mr. Fusspot.
- The adult novel The Mystery of the Fat Cat by Frank Bonham features a variant of this trope. A wealthy old lady left her estate and house to her cat for the rest of its natural life, under the care of a trustee; after the cat's death the house is to go to the city for a park. The book opens with the protagonists becoming suspicious of how long the cat has lived under the guardian's care, and they start to investigate.
- In H. Allen Smith's 1946 novel Rhubarb (filmed in 1951), a cranky millionaire leaves everything—including a major league baseball team—to his cat Rhubarb. The team's players and the millionaire's disinherited daughter are among those who have problems with this.
- One of the endings for the interactive book "The Dandee Diamond Mystery" has the benefactor's parrot inheriting the diamond.
- To Catch a Leaf, by Kate Collins, has a tabby that inherits its owner's mansion and all the contents thereof, including millions of dollars worth of art and furniture.
- In Francis M. Nevins' "Dogsbody" a rash of pet poisonings is the work of a disgruntled nephew who feels he's more deserving of his uncle's fortune than the formerly-stray dog which the deceased preferred to his relatives.
- In an episode of Black Books, Bernard's landlady died and left the building to her cat. Which led Bernard to try and hire someone to off the cat.
- One episode of Married... with Children implied that Marcie's aunt willed her whole estate to her cats while instructing Marcie to look after her cremated remains. (Steve clearly despised said aunt, and as a result, felt no regret or remorse over what happened to those ashes; his stories of her miserly ways during her life were likely to make sure the viewers felt the same way.)
- On Rescue Me, Tommy's father marries a rich woman and hopes to inherit her fortune when she suddenly dies. After an extensive spending spree, the family finds out that he inherited $50,000, and the rest was left to her various cats.
- Joked with in Pawn Stars by The Old Man, Or is it?
- In Kickin' It, Bobby Wasabi was once told something he didn't believe and his answer was saying it was rich like his dog will be once he dies.
- In the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Craig's Will", old Mr Craig leaves his fortune to his dog instead of his nephew. The nephew is satisfied to wait until the dog dies and the fortune passes to him, but his girlfriend, who'd been looking forward to a share, decides to take matters into her own hands.
- An episode of Elementary involved a murdered senior woman who left her a $12 million inheritance to her Shih Tzu instead of her children.
- The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Bully" has a Bad Boss whose bullying is exposed by one of her employees. After holding a press conference so she can give everyone "The Reason You Suck" Speech and then publicly shoot herself, she leaves everything she owns to her dog just to say "Screw you" to her employees.
- An episode of Designing Women had an old woman with a houseful of junk who left her fortune to her cat. Subverted in that the junk turned out to all be valuable collectibles, and she'd made her money in the first place from her cat appearing in television commercials.
- Subverted on The Guest Book. At the end of season 2, it's revealed that Tommy has inherited Barefoot Retreat from his mother. He was actually third in line behind her cat and new boyfriend, but they were on the plane with her.
- One episode of The Golden Girls has Rose inherit her uncle's pet pig, Baby, who has himself inherited a lot of money. The other Girls are not thrilled with the development.
- Dave Barry joked about this in a column, when he writes that cats secretly plot how to be made heirs to their owners' millions and then bump them off.
- The Muppet Show: Discussed and subverted in the Milton Berle episode, in which a Muppet News Flash describes the will of Mary Crandall, which has been bitterly contested by her son Charles and her cat Cuteypie. Courts ruled in favor of the son, who consequently inherited the estate... which consisted of 10,000 rubber mice.
- Housepets!: The wealthy Henry Milton leaves his fortune to his six pet ferrets.
- This is part of the concept of Catscratch: the main characters are a trio of talking cats who inherit their owner's vast fortune after her death.
- The Droopy cartoon Millionaire Droopy revolves around this, with Droopy's rival Spike trying to bump him off or otherwise get rid of him to get the inheritance instead of Droopy.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Lisa's First Word," when Homer and Marge are looking for a new house after Marge is discovered to be pregnant again, one of the houses the couple looks at is full of cats, who, according to the realtor, had inherited the house after their owner passed away. In fact, the realtor explains that not only do the cats technically own the house, but the Homer and Marge (and their kids) would simply be their "tenants."
- Another episode of The Simpsons has Mr. Burns naming his pet tortoise as a beneficiary of his will.
- This was the plot of the Tom and Jerry cartoon The Million-Dollar Cat. Tom inherits a million dollars that he can only keep if he never harms an animal, "not even a mouse". Jerry takes the opportunity to exploit this and not only mooches as much as he can, he actively torments Tom (more so than usual, at least). Tom eventually snaps and tries to clobber Jerry, breaking his role of The Voiceless to question his own actions:
Tom: Gee, I'm throwin' away a million dollars... BUT I'M HAPPY!
- Garfield and Friends: In one episode, Garfield inherits the Klopman Diamond, but the bad luck curse surrounding it leads Garfield to sell it. The money the buyer gives for it goes to the repair of Garfield's home, needed because of the curse.
- One Mighty Mouse cartoon features a wealthy couple who left their fortune to their mice. The couple's nephew tries to have their will invalidated, but the judge rules that they were in perfect mental condition (albeit one can doubt that while taking a look at the will). The nephew doesn't take it well and ends up being arrested. He soon escapes and decided to steal his uncle and aunt's mansion by dragging it with his bicycle. Fortunately Mighty Mouse restores it to its rightful place.
- Precious Pupp once believes he'd inherit a fortune and a dog named Mauler would get everything if something happened to Precious. After Mauler tries (and fails) to kill Precious several times, Precious's mistress gets her new glasses and finds out she misread the will. Mauler is the main heir and Precious is the secondary one. Precious's Muttley-like laughter is a sign of upcoming payback.
- Looney Tunes:
- Sylvester is left a fortune in the short Heir Conditioned. To his dismay, Elmer Fudd becomes his financial adviser and wants him to invest the fortune while Sylvester wants to spend it.
- In Dough Ray Me Ow, a pet parrot named Louie learns he's second in line to inherit his master's wealth, behind Heathcliff, a big doofus of a cat who obliviously survives several attempts on his life by Louie.
- Gravity Falls: In "Soos and the Real Girl," Mabel, when faced with impending death (her braces got caught in the screen door), declares that she intends to leave everything she owns to her pet pig, Waddles.