People Who Leave Fortunes to Their Pets

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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the richest pet of all? It might just be Gunther IV, a German Shepherd and the sole beneficiary of the German Countess Karlotta Liebenstein, who inherited nearly $200 million and parlayed it into a cool $372 million at last count. Even if you haven’t heard of Gunther IV or Countess Karlotta Liebenstein, you may remember Trouble Helmsley, the Maltese Terrier that initially inherited $12 million when Leona Helmsley died in 1997.

Many people, if they have a last will, leave their money and possessions to loved ones or charities, but some like the Countess or Leona Helmsley, leave it all to their pets. Here’s a look at 10 people, famous or otherwise—who’ve done just that. 

1. Maria Assunta

Maria Assunta may not be a celebrity, but she will be remembered as the millionaire widow who left her $13 million estate to a 4 year-old stray cat she rescued named Tommaso. Assunta, who died in December 2011 at age 94, had an estate that included not only the cash, but also properties in Rome, Milan, and Calabria, Italy. Lucky cat!

2. Leona Helmsley

Leona Helmsley, the notorious hotelier who was convicted of tax evasion and dubbed the “Queen of Mean,” died in 2007. That alone was enough to make news headlines, but when it was revealed that she had left $12 million to her beloved Maltese Terrier “Trouble,” Helmsley, her infamy reached new heights. Although Trouble died in 2010, she was arguably the richest—and most hated—dog in the world.

3. Gail Posner

When Miami Beach socialite Gail Posner died in March 2010, her family was shocked to learn that she had left a $3 million trust fund and a mansion in Miami Beach to her beloved pet Chihuahua, Conchita, and her two “sisters,” a Maltese Terrier named April Maria, and a Yorkshire Terrier named Lucia. Her only living son, Brett Carr, would receive only $1 million, which he later contested.

4. Alexander McQueen

While fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s death by suicide shocked the world in 2010, it was perhaps not so surprising that McQueen had bequeathed nearly $80,000—the same amount he left to each of his housekeepers, godson and each of his nieces and nephews—of his $16 million fortune to his beloved pet dogs, Minter, Juice and Callum. The money was to be put in a trust fund to care for the dogs for the rest of their lives. 

5. Dusty Springfield

Perhaps best known for her 1969 hit song, “Son of a Preacher Man,” Dusty Springfield died a quiet death from breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 59. An animal activist, Springfield provided well for her pet cat, Nicholas, after her death. However, she had stipulated in her will that Nicholas, was to only eat American baby food, live in a 7-foot indoor tree house, and be “married” to a then 5-year old English blue breed cat belonging to Springfield's friend Lee Everett-Aiken, who was also named as Nicholas' guardian. Nicholas has passed on but is commemorated by a shrub in Everett-Aiken’s garden at her home in Berkshire, United Kingdom.

6. Doris Duke

Tobacco heiress Doris Duke often made news headlines while she was alive—as well as after her death in 1993 when she left $100,000 in a trust fund to her Shar-Pei, Rodeo, and several other pet dogs. The money was to be used to care for her dogs, including covering feeding costs, kenneling fees, and veterinary expenses. The case also made legal news because it was the first animal trust fund settlement in the state of New York.

7. Karlotta Liebenstein

In 1992, Karlotta Liebenstein, a German countess, left more than $65 million to her German Shepherd Gunther III. When Gunther III passed away, his offspring, Gunther IV inherited the estate—then worth $200 million and has since reportedly grown to a whopping $372 million. In 2000, Gunther IV’s caretakers put the funds to good use, paying $7 million for a mansion in Miami (formerly owned by Madonna) where Gunther IV has free roam of the grounds and a doggie playroom. The German Shepherd is also the proud owner of several villas in Italy and the Bahamas and dines on steak and caviar daily.

8. Miles Blackwell

When Miles Blackwell, retired Chairman of Blackwell Limited, died unexpectedly at age 57 in 2001, he left nearly $10 million to his pet hen, Gigoo, after his wife died. The couple had no children and the bulk of their estate had been used to create the Tubney Charitable Trust in 1997, whose mission was to protect the welfare of farmed animals both in the UK and internationally. The trust closed its doors in March 2012.

9. Christina Foyle

Miss Foyle, as she was known, was considered heiress to one of London’s most famous booksellers, W & G Foyle Ltd. While she had no children, she had several pets and was quoted as having said, “animals are always loyal and love you…” When Miss Foyle died in 1999 at age 88, she bequeathed nearly $27,000 to her 50-year old pet tortoise, Silverstone. Silverstone’s net worth is now reportedly $200,000.

10. Natalie Shafer

Actress Natalie Shafer, who portrayed “Mrs. Thurston Howell III” on the television show, Gilligan’s Island, went on to make millions from real estate investments after the show was over. She never had children and when she died in 1991, she stipulated that the bulk of her fortune be used to care for her dog.

11. Oprah Winfrey

Although world famous talk show host Oprah Winfrey is alive and well, she has set up a trust fund to care for her many beloved dogs should they outlive her. The trust is said to be worth about $30 million, which would make her pooches continue to live very content lives.

While the haves and have-nots may be divided by the worth of their assets, one thing they have in common is the love for their pets. Millionaire or not, for those who have pets, these non-human creatures are family, and many will stop at nothing to care for their beloved pets—no matter what the cost.

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