Equine Law: Basic Wills for Horse People

It’s never too early to start planning for the future, and the new year is a good time to start looking forward. Kjirsten Lee, J.D. has some legal advice for horse and equine business owners regarding estate plans.

Flickr/Carl Wycoff/CC

Flickr/Carl Wycoff/CC

Hard to believe that 2016 has already begun – where did 2015 go?! The new year is a time for reflection and for looking forward. One way to plan for the future is to make sure your animals will be provided for in case the unthinkable happens.

It’s not a pleasant topic, but the fact remains that drawing up a will and estate plan is the best way to look out for your family (human, equine, canine, feline…). When you’re gone, who will make sure they are cared for? Most states have inheritance laws that will transfer ownership of your animals to any children you have, or to your spouse or parents, if you don’t have a will drawn up. This is how children sometimes end up worrying about what to do with Mom or Dad’s beloved, if eccentric, old dog when Mom or Dad passes away. As much as you might love Rover, your kids might not be so thrilled to have an extra dog around – so imagine if they had a horse or two to think about! You can have a say in your animal’s care if you have a proper estate plan drawn up by an attorney.

I have a horse, but the rest of my family isn’t very “horsey.” What will happen to my horse?

If you don’t have a will, most likely your children will decide what to do with your horse. If you don’t have children, that decision will belong to whomever inherits your estate under the law in your state.

You can decide where the horse will go by having an attorney draw up an estate plan specifically outlining how the horse will be cared for. One option is to have the horse donated to a college or riding school. You could also leave the horse to a student or employee who knows the animal and who you trust to care for the horse. A third possibility would be what is becoming known as a “pet trust,” where a portion of your estate is designated for the care of your horse in the future. The main difficulty with a pet trust is that there is a possibility the money will run out.

I own a boarding barn. What happens to my business?

Making a will is ESPECIALLY important if you own a business. The same rules apply to your business as to your personal horses regarding who takes ownership. You might have a barn manager or an assistant who would be willing to take over your barn, and you can give them that right in your will. Making a will also allows you to name an executor and create a buy-sell agreement if you have partners. This document discusses estate and succession planning for small business owners, but you should always consult an attorney to make sure you have all of your specific interests and concerns addressed.

This is a very brief overview of wills and estates – mainly, the point here is that it’s important to have a will if you have horses or any sort of equine business. While there are many simple will forms available online, it is always a good idea to consult your attorney when you have specific goals in your estate planning.

Go riding!

Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an attorney with a private practice in Minneapolis, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.

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