Pet Ownership Laws & How They Can Bite You In The Assets

I once owned a pit bull named Jackson. He dropped out of obedience school and went down a bad path. I was too busy with my legal career to notice that Jackson was out on the corner hustling with local thugs.

Every night I went to bed thinking: "Please, Lord. Don’t make me financially responsible for my pet’s poor life choices. Please."

There are a lot of situations where our furry and feathered friends run afoul of pet ownership laws. Pet custody is fiercely contested in divorces. You will also have to make provisions for your animals after you’re gone.

Your pet might go down a bad road like mine did. And heaven help you if yours commits the greatest crime in the canine criminal code: biting somebody. 

Pets are beloved family members, but there are some legal realities that you need to be aware of if you are a pet owner. These legal risks also may apply if you are a landlord or property owner and your tenant's dog bites someone. To that end, here are a few pet law fundamentals.

pet ownership laws: bird law

Laws regulating the treatment of pets vary from state to state

All laws regulating pet care can be reduced to one Elvis Presley maxim: don’t be cruel. Don’t leave your dog outside in a hurricane. Don’t leave them in a hot car. And of course, no dog fighting.

I thought this one was common sense, but it seems necessary to say it out loud because Michael Vick did 18 months for it. If dog fighting gets you off, you might also want to consider a psychiatrist. You’re a sadist.

Whether you're a dog owner or a property owner with "animal-friendly" policies, know the laws regarding animal treatment where you live and do business.

Pet custody issues are real: understand them

Look, you love your dog and so does your wife. You might love it more than your car but less than your boat. You might love it more than your children but less than your dinner.

To be frank, the law doesn’t care. Pets are considered property, just like any other asset, no matter how meaningful or deep your attachment to them may be.

So, in the event of a divorce where pet ownership is in dispute, the court has to consider a number of factors similar those that would be considered during a child custody hearing. Of course there are differences, since you legally own your dog. You don't own your kids.

Still, the rubric for pet custody and children is similar. The court considers who took care of the pet and who can pay for it. If it is a family pet, it will likely end up wherever the children go.

Either way, this is going to be in the judge’s hands. If pet custody is important to you, prepare your case.

pet ownership laws: pit bull with kissesInclude your pet in your estate plan

So, you’ve been dead for a week. Your dog has finished mourning at your grave and now he needs to eat. Who is going to feed him?  

If you want your pet taken care of after your passing, you can state in your trust or will what provisions you are leaving behind for its care. You can create a "pet trust" to outline the care of your pet after you are gone.

There is good chance there is someone in your life who will take the pet for free because, generally speaking, we all know at least one person who isn’t completely heartless.

If you don’t, I’m sorry that you are dying alone, but cheer up! You can see to your pet’s care either way. Leona Helmsley left millions of dollars to her dog.

If you want your pet to fill the void left by your absence with a jettsetting, playboy lifestyle and a solid gold grill, you can leave them your entire estate. Tony will appreciate the business.

Don't Get Left Holding The Bag If Your Tenant's Dog Bites Someone

What happens when your tenant’s dog bites a neighbor? Generally, the dog owner is the one liable for injuries.

However, there are instances in which the landlord or property owner can be legally responsible. For example, if the landlord has been made aware of a dog having an aggressive streak and failed to take appropriate measures, he or she could be facing a lawsuit.

Remember: One lawsuit can wipe your real estate investments if your investing business is established as a sole proprietorship. It may be a legal and easy way to structure your business, but it does little to protect you and your assets. The neighbor’s lawyers can see all of your investments, and you can be sued for everything you have.

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out in property investing or if you have been doing this for decades, you can keep more of what you earn through legal tax strategies and entity structures that shield your assets from unexpected lawsuits.

Interested in learning more? Read Renting To Tenants With Dogs: What Landlords Need To Know About Liability and Dog Bites and Landlord Liability: Know Where You Stand.

Wrapping It All Up

Most lawyers will give you cookie-cutter advice. You should learn from lawyers who are also property investors and who know how to protect you from any opportunistic lawsuits while making sure you pay no more tax than you really need to. Find someone who can legally structure a range of real estate investments to make sure your real estate investments or business are protected from unfair taxes or lawsuits.

Do you have questions about pet ownership or pet law? Fire away in the comments below. Better yet, let Royal Legal Solutions help you. Whether you want to protect a show dog or racehorse as an asset or incorporate your emotional support peacock into your estate plan, we've got you covered.

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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