The legal side of pet ownership

8:47 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - We walk them, we feed them, we pick up after them and occasionally we tease them.

"I affectionately call them the mutts," smiled Jeff Wendel. "They're anything but." Wendel's beagles, Maggie and Jacque, are the purest of purebreds.

Maggie's grandfather was once 'Best in Show' and Jacque is also part of a strong pedigree lineage.

Now retired, Wendel takes the mutts to the park twice a day in the summer and in the winter, they spend their days in California.

The Wendel family owns a chain of Dioji doggy day cares on the west coast, it's the ultimate spa if you will, and it's where the dogs will stay if anything happens to their owner.

"I have a trust for the mutts," explained Wendel. "It's a trust that should pay for their expenses. Dioji would be the trustee, which is my son and daughter-in-law."

It's all part of a growing trend to care for your pets in the event you die before them. "I've seen it more in the last eight or 10 years," said estate planning attorney Todd Andrews.

Andrews says, while most states allow trusts for pets, where owners can set aside enough money to care for them, Minnesota is one of four where you cannot directly leave money. But there are ways around that.

"A way to handle it is to give your pet to a trusted person and give them a bequest of some money," explained Andrews. That appointed person would then care for your pet. Currently there's no law to enforce that care, but that has the potential to change.

Andrews said the Minnesota Bar Association has a legislative committee that's studying the trust code for any recommendations or changes that should be passed on to lawmakers.

Like children, pets can also create quite a legal tangle during a divorce, which is also part of a growing trend.

"Pets in Minnesota are treated as property," said Heimerl & Lammers Associate attorney Kelsey Swanson. "More often than not one person wants the pet because of the emotional ties and unfortunately the other person will use the pet as a bargaining chip in the divorce proceeding."

People have paid thousands in legal fees to gain custody of a pet. Your best bet is to come to an agreement early because if you do not, a judge could treat the pet just like property and force it to be sold.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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