Should Pets Inherit?

57 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2011 Last revised: 12 Nov 2011

See all articles by Frances H. Foster

Frances H. Foster

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2011


This Article argues that pets should inherit. For many Americans today, their pets, not their human family members, are their nearest and dearest. In earlier work, I have argued that American inheritance law is trapped in an outdated family paradigm. That paradigm assumes that the decedent's closest relatives by blood, adoption, or marriage are the most deserving recipients of the decedent's estate, the so-called “natural objects of the decedent's bounty.” Using a humanistic approach, I have shown that this abstract vision of “natural” wealth distribution permeates law and decisionmaking and creates significant human costs. By ignoring the actual relationships between decedents and survivors, the family paradigm excludes the very people a particular decedent may have valued most — those connected by affection and support rather than by family status. This Article extends my critique. It argues that the family paradigm also fails to recognize survivors many Americans regard as their closest companions, friends, and even family — their pets. I conclude that reformers must look beyond the family paradigm's abstractions and develop more individualized approaches that encompass a decedent's actual natural objects ― be they human or nonhuman.

Keywords: Inheritance, pets, family, animals, friendship

Suggested Citation

Foster, Frances H., Should Pets Inherit? (July 1, 2011). Florida Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 4, 2011, Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-07-02, Available at SSRN:

Frances H. Foster (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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