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Pet Heir

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Dr. Alan Graham: Mom left the entire estate in trust to Eustacia Vye. You can try talking to her, but you won't get much back.
Det. Marcus Bell: Eustacia Vye? That a friend of hers?
Sherlock Holmes: Her best friend. As in "man's best friend." Eustacia Vye is Ms. Graham's prize-winning Shih Tzu.
Elementary, "Up To Heaven and Down to Hell"

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. This is very often Played for Laughs 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.


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  • Chewy mail-order pet supply's "Inheritance" commercial has a wealthy man leave his company to his daughter, a model train set to his son, and his cat Mr. Marbles will receive "regular deliveries for all of his needs in perpetuity." Mr. Marbles also gets the summer residence and the beach house. When the son objects, the cat says "You got a train set, Todd!"

  • The first episode of Galaxy Angel has Ranpha and Forte sent to find a cat named "Baron Fitzgerald III", who is to inherit a large fortune in lieu of the late owner's son. The cat ends up dying after giving birth to three kittens, who end up being the ones to inherit it.

    Board Games 
  • 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."

    Comic Books 
  • 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. And then it turns out the man isn't dead yet.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.

    Eastern Animation 
  • There is one Soviet Russian propaganda movie (based on a poem by Sergey Mikhalkov) where a rich American lady dies in a car crash, and her dog inherits her entire fortune. Then the dog goes on to become a socialite, a congressman, and then even a Senator. All because of the money.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Aristocats, the titular 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. Or that he would be bright enough to understand that, as the cats' caretaker, he would inherit the fortune in fact, if not in name, either way.
  • 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 for themselves.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Once Upon a Crime: The wealthy Madam Van Dougan leaves her fortune to her dachshund, to the fury of her servants, who kill her for it.
  • 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 know 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 El mieo no anda en burronote , a comedy/horror film from Mexico, starring La India María as María Nicolasa Cruz. To go into greater detail:
    • The movie starts off with the death of a wealthy matriarch named Doña Clarita—María works for her as a maid, but after her boss dies, her boss's relatives (who María refers to as "The Vultures"note ) fire her and force her to take Clarita's beloved Shih Tzu, Mimi, with her.
    • After Clarita's relatives head to the reading of her will, it turns out that Clarita (feeling that her relatives were far too selfish and greedy to inherit her fortune) names María and Mimi as her only beneficiaries—or, to be more accurate, Clarita leaves her entire fortune to Mimi and wants María to act as the dog's guardian. After this, the movie revolves around the relatives trying to scare María to death so they can get a hold of the dog and the fortune.

  • Discworld:
    • 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.
  • Turtles All the Way Down has a rare Played for Drama example. The absurdly wealthy Russell Pickett, Sr. has gone missing, and if he's confirmed to be dead (or hasn't been found in seven years), his entire fortune will default to his pet tuatara... without a single penny going to his two sons. The elder of whom is barely eighteen. What a prize. His justification for this is that studying the tuatara could lead to scientific breakthroughs that will benefit humans, but everyone is shocked by how utterly cold-hearted this is to his own children. In the end, Aza finds that Pickett is indeed dead, but informs his elder son privately. That way, if he wants, he can keep his mouth shut and hang onto the family fortune for seven more years, which gives him time to figure things out. However, he winds up telling the police so he and his little brother can have closure, and they move to live with relatives in Colorado.
  • The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries:
    • Discussed but subverted in book 2, when the lawyer of the by-then deceased James Delacorte calls Charlie to meet with him about the will, and Sean Harris jokingly suggests that Delacorte might have changed his will to include Diesel as an heir. (It's actually because Charlie's been made co-executor.)
      Sean: "Or maybe he took a shine to Diesel. You could have a very wealthy cat on your hands."
    • Referenced again in book 5, when Sean jokingly says he doesn't want his father to die until he's made out his will. Charlie just as jokingly says he already has, and that he left everything to Diesel, to which Sean rolls his eyes.
  • In one book of The Saddle Club series, Pine Hollow ends up boarding a horse whose owner had recently died and left most of her multi-million dollar fortune in a trust for said horse, with a provision that whatever is left reverts to her only living relative, her nephew, upon the horse's death. Justified in that horses are much more expensive to keep than most animals; the horse is too old to sell and the owner had no one in her life that she trusted to look after the horse, so she set up the trust as a way of ensuring that the mare would be able to get good quality care and boarding for the rest of her life. Given that the woman's nephew is a jerk who spends most of the book trying to find a way to subtly kill the horse so he can get his hands on the trust (having already blown through the six-figure sum that he inherited upon his aunt's death), the protagonists agree that the horse probably deserved it more anyway.
  • In Journey of the Mountain Man by William Johnstone, two outlaws about to face down a vastly superior gunfighter write wills leaving their money to their horses. One of them says that it's so his horse will spend the rest of his life relaxing in a pasture full of hay.
  • Patrick Quentin's mystery short story "Puzzle for Poppy" revolves around a pregnant St. Bernard who is due to inherit from her owner, who has recently been murdered.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Discussed by Miss Brooks and her landlady Mrs. Davis at the beginning of "Mr. Casey's Will". Then inverted: Mrs. Davis' sister Angela is heartbroken over the demise of her cat Mr. Casey. To honour her late cat, Angela has her lawyer write a will with Mr. Casey at the testator. Angela wishes to use this to honour Mr. Casey's (human) friends. Miss Brooks finds herself acting as the executrix of the will. Hilarity ensues.
  • 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.)
  • In 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 issues involved in this are deconstructed, as the lawyer charged with the dog's care has to give up his planned new job in a more lucrative practice in another city to care for an animal he isn't particularly attached to and deal with years of legal complaints from the children trying to get around the will.
  • 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.
  • Mchales Navy: Downplayed in McHale and his Jet Set. Parker's aunt only leaves her pet canary $1,000 out of her million-dollar estate, but that's still more than Ensign Parker gets.
  • 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.
  • In The Millionaire, each episode features somebody anonymously receiving a check for one million dollars from an Eccentric Millionaire. One of the recipients is an elderly spinster who dies shortly afterward and leaves all her money to her cat Ralph, with an allowance for her nephew on condition of him being Ralph's caretaker.
  • An installment of ABC's 1965 summer anthology series Vacation Playhouse was "Cap'n Ahab," about a sea traveler who leaves his estate to his parrot. Likewise, the seafarer's kin can't process this.
  • A throwaway line in The Dukes of Hazzard has Roscoe mention that in case he dies, he's leaving everything he owns to his dog. Then remarks, dejectedly, that he doesn't actually own anything at all.

  • The video for the Taylor Swift song "Anti-Hero" contains a fantasy sequence where Taylor's future sons and daughter-in-law murder her for her money, only to discover that she has left it all to her cats.
Daughter-in-law: Wait, who got the beach house?
Son: She's having it turned into a fucking cat sanctuary.
Daughter-in-law: What?! Cats don't even like the beach!

    Print Media 
  • 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.

    Puppet Shows 
  • 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. No wonder the cat wanted it.


    Video Games 
  • In Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, this was the backstory of Joke Character Yappy — a pampered pooch from The '50s whose owner left her vast wealth to him, only for a relative to steal it. Yappy tried to fight back, only for it to result in a tragic accident, which is how he ended up in the tournament.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: A new groom in one Sidequest hires you to kill his wealthy father-in-law for the inheritance. If you do, it's revealed that the father-in-law willed everything to his favourite pig. The groom panics when he realizes it was All for Nothing.

    Web Comics 
  • Housepets!: The wealthy Henry Milton leaves his fortune to his six pet ferrets.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 (remade later as "Wags To Riches") 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," after Marge is discovered to be pregnant with her and Homer's second child (Lisa), the couple goes house-hunting for a bigger place. One of the homes they consider is full of cats—when Homer says, "Once we get the cats out of the way, it won't be so bad," the realtor helping them explains that, according to the will of the cats' previous owner, the cats are the ones who own the house and that if the Simpsons were to move in, they would technically be the cats' "tenants."
    • Another episode of The Simpsons has Mr. Burns naming his pet tortoise as a beneficiary of his will.
  • Tom and Jerry:
    • This was the plot of the 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:
      (violence stops)
      Tom: Gee, I'm throwin' away a million dollars...BUT I'M HAPPY!
      (violence resumes)
    • "Casanova Cat" starts with the news that female cat Toodles recently inherited a million dollars. Naturally, her wealth and beauty draw suitors, including Tom.
  • 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, "The Champion of Justice," 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 and tries to give some of it to some alley cat friends of his. After all the trouble that Sylvester goes through because of this, to the point where even the alley cats chastise their colleague for disrupting the economy with his actions, he finally gives in and then growls to the portrait of his mistress that his life would have been less complicated if she took her money with her.
    • 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.
    • From Phony Psychic Li'l Gideon's musical number in "The Hand that Rocks the Mabel":
      Gideon: You wish your son would call you more!
      Old Lady: I'm leaving everything to my cat!

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television. Look up Leona Helmsley and Gail Posner. Although with Leona Helmsley, what she left to her dog (a $12 million trust fund) is a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of her fortune, which she willed to a charitable trust.
  • In reality, this sort of thing usually takes the form of a trust, not a will, as in many countries animals are actually not considered eligible to directly inherit money (owing to the fact that they cannot possess it), so an owner would have to put the money in a trust to be used for the benefit of the animal. This is often recommended in the cases of pets with particularly long lifespans that are likely to exceed the owner's (parrots and tortoises, usually), as said pets tend to be harder to get adopted into new homes.


Video Example(s):


Madame's will

Edgar overhears Madame leaving her fortune to her cats

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / PetHeir

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