By Elisa Black-Taylor

A Tennessee man has left his two cats an inheritance worth $250,000 as well as a 4,200-square-foot home. Although Leon Sheppard, 79, died in December 2012, the story of his now rich cats is making it’s way around the internet.

Leon was a retired Memphis businessman who had five children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren whom he could have passed his inheritance on to. Instead, his two cats Frisco and Jake will continue to live a life of luxury. The money will be used to care for the cats and for upkeep on the home. After Frisco goes to the rainbow bridge, the money will be divided between surviving family members. It’s stated in the will that Jake will be taken care of for the rest his life. Perhaps Frisco is a much older cat than Jake, and Leon doesn’t want to make his family wait forever to receive their share.

Since leaving an inheritance to a pet involves a lot of legal loopholes, it’s advised to get a good attorney if you’re planning to do this. In most states cats cannot own property, so the cat has to have a “guardian” of sorts who will see the money is spent on what the testator (person making the will) desires.

Planning to leave an estate is done by creating a pet trust, and are carried out similar to charitable trusts where the money is used to benefit a charity. Except instead of a charity, it’s used for provide care for the deceased persons pets.

Memphis attorney Randall Fishman believes it’s normal for a person to leave money to animals saying “People donate to animal hospitals and charities all the time; the only difference is that Mr. Sheppard’s estate is going to specific animals.”

It’s likely the will won’t be contested. Relatives have refused to speak to the media about this situation. I wonder whether they knew about it beforehand. In Tennessee, a person considered of sound mind when the will was drafted and signed is considered of sound mind. The family would have to have very good evidence that Leon was mentally disturbed at the time it was written. That’s not likely to happen.

This isn’t my first article about pet trust funds. I covered the topic here awhile back.

There have been many cats (and dogs) who were left a sizable inheritance after the death of their owner. Just Google “man (or woman) left inheritance to cats” and you’ll be shown quite a few examples.

Is it morally right for a person to leave their fortune to their cats? There are likely those out there reading this with the attitude “it’s just a cat.” What kind of mentality does a person who does this have, to love cats more than family. Shouldn’t family come first in a person’s life? How would you feel if you were a member of this man’s family? Now THAT I’d like some comments on!

All I’ll say is this: cats don’t complain, they’re easier to please than humans and they love unconditionally. How do you all feel about this?


Note: I’ve listed the references below because each tells a different part of this story.

Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Hmmm. So often a family member who is having problems such as drugs or alcohol or any other addiction will only see their problems multiply because of a sudden influx of money. Many other problems can happen. For their own good sometimes it is better not to give family a large inheritence than to give it to them, it just depends on the situation. The cats would never need that much money to live a nice comfortable life, so hopefully the person made alternate arraingments in his will so that when the cats pass on the remainder goes to a good cause rather than some government agency.

  • Normally it is presumed that only lonely bachelors or spinsters bequeathed their wealth to their pets or a animal welfare society as they had no human heir. .Mr Leon.Shepphard has broken this "STEREOTYPE" of animal and pet philanthropists by being a grandfather with numerous heirs.

  • It probable that the $250,000 was not much money for him but an immense amount to ensure the well-being of his cats. You can imagine how much he spent bringing up his family. But maybe it was to tweek their noses. Who knows? That's his own business.

  • I think a lot of it will depend on whether his children are doing well financially. I admire his love for his cats. I come from a very dysfunctional family where my mother wrote her own sister out of her will. This sister even started an argument with me right over my mother's casket at the funeral home during visitation. So I can see leaving money to the cats instead of to a person. I'd burn money before I let that relative of mine have a penny.

  • Sounds like something I would do. I would give everything to make sure my cats feel as secure as possible. I'd try to make sure they could stay living in the place and somebody they know live with them and take care of them and ther vet they know comes to see them there when possible. So the only change is that I am gone - as close to that as possible. I'd want them to be played with.

    I'm feeding the ladies cats for 2 weeks and there's a little kitten who has fallen in love with me just because I played with her and nobody bothered to yet. She fell asleep in my hand yesterday it was so lovely. I didn't move for 45mins :) They need to play.

    I would use my money to make them as comfy as possible and I would then give the rest to cat charity or familly if I have any.

    • Awww...
      A little baby kitty, round and furry... Those little piggies and those little ears... I'm such an ear freak!

  • I wouldn't mind if I had a rich father who left money to his cats.Money is a necessary evil and it's awful people fight over wills and forget how much more important love and companionship is and those cats gave Mr Sheppard that and his family should be glad.

  • ‘How would you feel if you were a member of this man’s family’

    Me, I'd feel fine. Happy. But we know how Wills can cause massive upset and arguments in families. Wills, especially ones that give away lots of money are very problematic and it is quite possible that the other beneficiaries (if they are human) will be upset and looking for ways to overturn it.

  • 'How would you feel if you were a member of this man’s family'

    I'd feel very proud if Leon Sheppard was my late father.
    To me cats are family too and just as deserving if not more so than human members of a family, because they are totally dependant on their caretaker.
    The people who will say 'It's just a cat' obviously don't appreciate the unconditional love and happiness a cat can bring to a person.

  • I think what he did was wonderful.
    Not knowing what the family dynamics were or are, I can come up with a few very good reasons why he did this, ie. He loved his cats, and perhaps his cats were his only family members that he felt would be in need of the $$ when he passed.
    If I were one of his family members, I would be delighted to have this happen. My late father left an inheritance to be divided among his children. We all knew about his will long before he passed and had the opportunity to ask him to have any portion diverted to somewhere other than our pockets. He was more than willing to make that happen, not by rewriting his will but giving the executer instructions to follow. Maybe the family knew and were in agreement.

    • I think what he did was right too. Perhaps he was worth millions. I don't know but his cats were probably more important that a lot of other beneficiaries. He certainly loved his cats.

      I'll do something similar probably. It depends on when I am called to go.

      I just hope the executors spend it wisely. I guess there is a provision in the Will for any money not spent on the cats to be used somewhere else as specified in the Will.

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