The Law Treats Pets Same As Your Old Couch!
Because pets are property in the eyes of the law, and treated as such by the courts, an advisor must ask his clients “Do you have any pets?” The client, often sure that he is the pet’s rightful owner, will answer in the affirmative - but might be mistaken.
Whose Dog Is It?
Movie buffs might remember this classic scene from Peter Seller’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again:
Inspector Clouseau: "Does your dog bite?"
Hotel Clerk: "No."
Inspector Clouseau pets the dog. The dog bites Clouseau's foot.
Inspector Clouseau: "I thought you said your dog did not bite!"
Hotel Clerk: "That is not my dog."
For anyone interested in legal protection of their pet’s continued care, this vignette is important as well as entertaining. In America’s legal system, pets are considered property. But people do not think of their companion animals as property: in fact, 88% think of them as family members.
Make Sure Your Advisor is Concerned About Your Pets
Pet lovers, make sure your advisor asks about your pets when doing an estate plan. It’s practically effortless for an advisor to ask clients “Do you have a pet? Who owns the pet?” since they already ask about other property as a matter of course. Advisors are already accustomed to asking about clients’ property—home, land, furniture, money, art, boats, cars, jewelry and other valuables—so that appropriate steps can be taken to protect the property. It should be easy to add animals to that list. At the same time, it’s bad news because pets frequently hold a much dearer place in people’s lives than other types of property.
The status of pets as property has a number of practical consequences. For example, if you leave a pet at the veterinarian’s office beyond a certain period of time, or do not pay the bill, the vet can take ownership of the animal and the pet may end up in the city pound. Chillingly, the ownership of a pet that comes into the care of a shelter often transfers in as little as 72 hours to a week, after which time the shelter can legally euthanize the animal.
Most importantly, you need to establish ownership rights for Fido. Otherwise Fido’s fate may be subject to negotiation and possibly a court’s decision.
Who Owns the Dog?
Take the test below and see if you own the dog:
“I own the dog! I rescued Soupbone at the shelter.”
“I own the dog! My boyfriend purchased Rover and gave him to me as a birthday gift.”
“I own the dog! I took Swizzle to the vet; my mother only bought the food.”
“I own the dog! In my divorce I am getting the kids.”
“I own the dog! I had Topper for years before we were married.”
“I own the dog! Before we were a couple I had the Poodle and she had the Labrador. I stay at home and care for both dogs. My partner and I can live without each other but the dogs can’t!”
Nothing in the scenarios above proves ownership in a court of law. A Pet Trust or a Pet Protection Agreement® pet trust* is the strongest proof you can bring to court. Resolving the issue of ownership before a dispute arises can solve a myriad of problems and avert future legal disputes and litigation.