Man Leaves $250,000 and Home to Cats, Not Relatives

Two cats are each enjoying their nine lives in the lap of luxury, thanks to their deceased owner, who left his entire estate to his fluffy friends.

Leon Sheppard Sr., a retired businessman and Memphis, Tennessee, native who died in 2012, has five children, 12 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. However, in his will, he left his $250,000 fortune and 4,270-square-foot home in a gated community to his two cats, Frisco and Jake.

According to Memphis station WMC-TV, the cats are to live in the Sheppard home in a way that maintains their standard of living, and the $250,000 will be used for their care as well as the maintenance of the house. After Frisco dies (his age isn't known, but according to WMC-TV, he’s "old"), the remainder of the money will be divided among Sheppard’s relatives, with the understanding that Jake will be cared for.

It's unclear how Sheppard's family feels about the will; however, the local news reporter noted that they do not wish to comment.

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“People donate to animal hospitals and charities all the time; the only difference is that Mr. Sheppard's estate is going to specific animals," Randall Fishman, a Memphis-based attorney, tells Yahoo Shine. "The amount seems exorbitant, but it’s Mr. Sheppard’s money, so he decides how it’s allocated.”

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In the state of Tennessee, as long as a person is of "sound mind and disposing memory" when he or she drafted a will, its terms become pretty ironclad. “Executors are put in place to ensure that the person's requests are carried out and it would be pretty difficult to contest a will unless a family member had compelling evidence that the person wasn’t competent at the time he created it,” says Fishman.

Surprisingly, Jake and Frisco aren’t the richest pets in the world. In 2007, New York hotel heiress Leona Helmsley bequeathed the majority of her estate, $12 million, to her white Maltese dog named Trouble. Later, a judge reduced the dog’s inheritance to $2 million, some of which was used to cover his $10,000 food and grooming expenses each year until he died in 2011. That same year, when Maria Assunta, the wealthy widow of an Italian businessman, died at age 94, she left her cat Tommaso a $13 million fortune that included cash and properties in Rome, Milan, and Calabria, a southern region of Italy.

While it may sound odd to leave such large sums of money to animals rather than relatives, our love of critters has evolutionary roots. When scientists at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California Los Angeles measured brain activity of people shown photos of animals — whether cute or dangerous — their amygdala, the portion of the brain associated with emotional reaction, lit up. Another study, conducted by Northeastern University, found that people feel more empathy toward an animal in distress than they do a human in the same situation.

Although how empathetic humans are toward cats with big bank accounts has yet to be studied.

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