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My Cat is Selling Real Estate–Why?

by | Mar 29, 2023

 Discovering that your cat is selling real estate is confusing and difficult, but should not be cause for alarm. If a trust is set up with your cat named as beneficiary, the trust is legally obligated to act in the cat’s best interests, and must buy or sell property if this would benefit the cat, as outlined in the trust. Thus, your cat could buy or sell real property indirectly through a pet trust set up for its care, and this trust would have to be set up by you.

There are a surprising number of extremely wealthy pets, though of course any non-zero number of wealthy trust cats or dogs is surprising. For example, a Queens, NY woman left her dog a house, jewelry, and other items valued at $1 million. The house will not be in the dog’s name, but will be in the name of the trust of which the dog is the beneficiary. Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley famously left a multi-million dollar pet trust with her dog as beneficiary, a dog who received so many death threats that he had a full-time bodyguard.

Just as there are trust fund people, there are also trust fund cats and dogs. Generally, these sorts of pet trusts would be established with your pet named as the trust’s beneficiary after you pass away. The trustee(s) involved would owe fiduciary duties to your cat, and these trustee(s) could be sued if it can be proven that they are not acting in your cat’s best interests.

For example, according to Legacy Protection Lawyers, LLP in Florida, state law “still considers pets as personal property… Nonetheless, a pet owner can require that a trustee of her trust use the money in the trust to care for her pet.” The pet owner can set up a trust with “a beneficiary (the pet), a trustee… a caretaker of the pet” as well as “the enforcer who makes certain the terms of the trust are being followed.” In this case, the “enforcer can legally enforce the terms of the trust” on the caretaker. Thus, there are multiple layers of checks and balances, all geared towards making sure everyone is fulfilling their fiduciary duties to your cat, or other animal.

An article by Oregon Pacific Bank describes a pet trust that outlines sales of specific property owned by the trust to support the horses who are the trust’s beneficiaries. As a real estate agent, it’s nice to know that if one gets tired of human clients, one could potentially be a horse’s agent. Of course, property sales by animal trusts appear to be extremely rare.

Pets are personal property and therefore in many ways are inanimate objects in the eyes of the law. However, as discussed, pets are a type of property to which one can owe fiduciary duties, which is quite rare in the world of objects. For example, one cannot owe legally enforceable fiduciary duties to a door, a mop, etc. This used to be the case with animals as well; until recently, a pet could not be named as the beneficiary of a trust. Attorney Jim Sarlis writes that, according to the common law rule against perpetuities, “a trust must be measured in human lives.” However, based on pet trust laws adopted in almost all 50 states, “pet trusts are exempt from the rule against perpetuities.”

Thus, a cat can own something arguably more valuable and powerful than property; a cat can have an entire legal organization set up to own property solely for the best interests of the cat.

Generally, pet trusts cannot continue indefinitely; that is, they can only last for the lifetime of the pet named by the trust, and cannot generally apply to the pet’s descendents. One exception is Colorado, which allows a pet trust to apply to “the animals’ offspring in gestation,” meaning that a pet’s unborn offspring, if in gestation at the time the pet becomes the trust beneficiary, will be included in the trust for the duration of its life (Colorado Revised Statutes 15-11-901). In most pet trusts, after the last named beneficiary dies, the trust will pass to a remainder interest, which is a party who will receive the remainder of the trust upon the pet’s death. This remainder interest could be a charity, a caretaker, or another person or entity.

Though pets with bodyguards who are real estate tycoons get sarcastic treatment in the media (this article included!), the fundamental reason that pet trusts exist is to ensure that pets are not cast aside like objects when their owner passes away. Most pet trusts are for reasonable amounts of money, and simply ensure that someone’s pet continues to be fed and cared for. Millions of animals end up homeless when their owners die, which is why almost all states have recognized that pets cannot always be treated by the law as simply objects.

That said, if you’re a real estate agent hosting an open house and a dog arrives with a bunch of bodyguards, remember that there’s a high likelihood of an all-cash offer.


How Animals Differ from Other Types of “Property” Under the Law, Animal Legal Defense Fund, https://aldf.org/article/how-animals-are-treated-differently-from-other-types-of-property-under-the-law/, accessed 3/23/23

Perez, Chris, Pampered Pooch to Inherit 6-figure trust fund, $1M House, The New York Post, Jan. 16, 2015 https://nypost.com/2015/01/16/pampered-pooch-to-inherit-6-figure-trust-fund-1m-house/, accessed 3/20/23

Pet Trusts: Providing For Our Furry Friends In An Estate Plan, Oregon Pacific Bank, https://www.opbc.com/pet-trusts-providing-for-our-furry-friends-in-an-estate-plan/, accessed 3/23/23

Sarlis, Jim D. Esq., New York State Bar Association, Laws and Paws Journal – the official publication of the NYS Bar Association’s Committee on Animals and the Law, Winter 2017, Vol. 5, No. 2. p. 12.

Should Your Pet Have A Trust, Legacy Protection Lawyers, LLP, May 19, 2019, https://www.legacyprotectionlawyers.com/should-your-pet-have-a-trust/, accessed 3/23/23

Stuart Kingson, Inc. v Robinson, 596 A.2d 1378 (1991)

Zeveloff, Julie, The Dog That Inherited Milions From Leona Helmsley Has Died — Relive Her Luxurious Life Here, Business Insidier, Jun 9, 2011, https://www.businessinsider.com/trouble-leona-helmsley-dog-died-2011-6#her-security-cost-a-fortune-a-full-time-body-guard-cost-98000-a-year-but-she-received-loads-of-death-threats-9, accessed 3/20/23

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