Feline Fiduciaries & Canine Custody Agreements
Pet-related lawsuits, custody battles, and insurance issues are thoroughly modern problems. Our grandparents didn’t worry over these things. But today you don’t have to look far to see news stories of expensive, heart-wrenching custody battles or lawsuits involving animals. It’s also increasingly common for divorcing couples to negotiate pet custody, and like everything in those situations, negotiations can be friendly or antagonistic.
While it’s great that pets have achieved a higher status within the modern family, it raises the bar of responsibilities and expectations. We now must include our animals while planning for both the inevitable and the unthinkable.
Risks and liabilities — know them, and be prepared
• You can be liable if your pet bites, scratches, trips, or even frightens someone.
• Check your homeowner’s or renter’s policy for exclusions or limits, especially when you receive renewals or notification of updates or changes to your policy.
• When buying homeowner’s insurance, disclose the number, type, and breed of pets in your home and ask for proof of the company’s acceptance and approval.
• Keep vaccines current. Proof of this is among the first things you'll be asked for in the event your pet bites or scratches someone.
• While nothing is fail-proof, having your dog complete basic obedience with a reputable trainer or even earn a Canine Good Citizen certificate can help demonstrate your pup’s character.
Custody & ownership
• Licensing and microchipping are the most reliable proof of ownership in the event of a dispute over pet guardianship.
• If your pet goes missing, immediately file reports with your local shelter or animal control agency and the microchip manufacturer. Search "lost pet fliers" online for additional help.
• If you find a lost or stray animal, by law you must try to find the owner. That means filing a “found” report with local shelters, checking for a microchip, and waiting 30 days before you can legally adopt or re-home the pet.
• Although they commonly do, judges aren’t required to consider a pet’s best interest in custody disputes. Pets are considered property.
• You can’t leave money to your pets, but you can leave money in a trust for the person or organization that will care for your pets if they outlive you.
• Some animal charities have programs that provide care and new homes for pets of donors who leave bequests to the charity.