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Karl Lagerfeld's cat to inherit a fortune, but may not be richest pet

Karl Lagerfeld dead at 85

Perhaps all that's certain after fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld's death at age 85 Tuesday is that his beloved cat Choupette -- a celebrity in her own right -- will continue to live the cushy lifestyle she grew accustomed to under his care. 

Choupette, a Burmese cat, stands to inherit a chunk of the designer's estimated $300 million net worth, after he wrote her into his will in 2015, according to Le Figaro. Lagerfeld confirmed in an interview with Numéro last year that she, among others, would be an heiress to his vast fortune. "Don't worry, there is enough for everyone," he said. Among Choupette's most admired traits? "She doesn't talk," Lagerfeld told Numero in an earlier interview. 

Before Lagerfeld's death, Choupette, who has nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram, already had an income, appearing in advertisements for cars and beauty products. She had been named an ambassador for French carmaker Opel, was the subject of two books and had her own line of makeup for Shu Uemura, according to Le Figaro. 

"She has her own little fortune, she is an heiress: If something happens to me, the person who will take care of it will not be in misery," Lagerfeld said. "She's a rich girl!" 

Though Lagerfeld is German, the pair resided in France, where the law prohibits pets from inheriting their owners' wealth. German law, however, allows one's wealth to be transferred to an animal. 

"In France you cannot name a pet as a beneficiary. In order for a beneficiary to receive an inheritance, it has to be a physical person or a foundation," said Valerie Duane-Dray, an international inheritance lawyer based in Hollywood, Florida. 

She suspects Lagerfeld took one of three routes to ensure Choupette, which means "Sweetheart" in English, would continue to be pampered after the designer's death. 

He could have created a foundation, whose sole mission is to take care of the cat, and named a director who could receive funds under the condition that the money is for the animal's care. 

He could also have donated the money to an existing nonprofit and stipulated that the funds be used to take care of Choupette. Alternatively, he could have left Choupette to a trusted individual along with a gift of cash, earmarked for her care, Duane-Dray said. 

It's not uncommon for pet owners to consider their furry friends in estate planning. "I have definitely recommended people taking certain steps planning for how their assets pass to make sure they take care of their pets," said certified financial planner Roger Ma. 

Estate laws in the U.S. vary but always require that a human being have oversight over any funds entrusted to a pet. Courts have discretion, too. "There are reasonable limits to what you can leave a pet. A court will not honor the request of millions of dollars and can reduce a trust for a pet to what is a reasonable sum," said estate planning lawyer Jennifer Guimond-Quigley. 

Still, it isn't unheard of for an owner to bequeath a pet money it can't even spend.  

Billionaire real estate tycoon Leona Helmsely raised eyebrows in 2007 when she died and left $12 million for her Maltese, named Trouble. German countess Carlotta Liebenstein in 1991 left her dog Gunther IV $80 million, launching him to the top of the "Pet Rich List."

Lagerfeld's pet-pampering habits are drawing attention to what Ma said is an important conversation for pet owners to have. 

"Everyone that is a pet owner should make sure not to overlook their furry friends when they're making their estate plans," said Ma. "Not everyone has millions to give their pet, but it shines a light on making sure there's a qualified caretaker that you trust to ensure it has a good home to go to and also that you fund their needs."

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