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Will vs. Living Will

When I talk to my clients, they often ask if they will get a living will with their documents and how a living will is different from, well, a plain, old regular will. They are actually very different documents.

A will is a legal document that allows you to leave property to certain individuals and organizations when you die. It lists a representative who will oversee the process and make sure your wishes are followed. A will must go through probate, which means it must be submitted to a court for approval. The probate process can take at least 9 months and sometimes years. It is generally a public process so anyone can see what possessions you have left to whom. A will can also be challenged – meaning someone is arguing that it should not be enforced for various reasons – extending the probate process even longer.

A living will is an incapacity document. In Massachusetts, we don’t actually use the term “living will,” which is probably a good thing since it causes so much confusion. We call it an advance directive. It instructs medical personnel about the types of end of life care you want to have and don’t want to have. Interestingly, an advance directive is not legally binding in Massachusetts, unlike the situation in many other states. Why should you have an advance directive if it is not legally enforceable? An advance directive provides end-of-life instructions for your medical personnel as well as your health care proxy, so it is actually a vitally important part of your incapacity documents. Most medical personnel will follow the directions in a properly drafted and executed advance directive. In addition, your health care proxy will undoubtedly be distraught if you are incapacitated to the point of needing end-of-life care. An advance directive takes the pressure off of your proxy having to decide themselves what procedures you want or don’t want at that time.

If you have more questions about wills vs. living wills, aka advance directives, or if you need either or both drafted or updated, please contact me today.

Updating Your Estate Plan

As a part of the estate planning I do for my clients, I contact them each year to see if they need to make any updates or changes to their plan. You may think that once you get your estate plan drafted that you can make some changes just by handwriting in the changes and adding your signature to the change. Not so fast!

There are specific procedures that have to be followed when you execute the documents in your estate plan. According to Massachusetts law, you need a certain number of witnesses and those witnesses must meet certain requirements. You must also have documents notarized. If you do not meet these requirements, then your will, trust, or incapacity documents could be considered invalid after you become incapacitated or die. All that hard work and money that you put into getting your documents drafted correctly by an attorney will be wasted. Even more importantly, you may not receive the care you wanted, and your beneficiaries may not receive the inheritance you left them.

In addition, making a change to your estate plan without having your estate planning attorney do it may have other ramifications. You may put in a term or make a change that is not recognized by Massachusetts. For example, an Irrevocable Medicaid Trust must have certain language in it or it may be successfully challenged by Medicaid, causing you to potentially lose your home to pay for nursing care costs. An estate planning attorney stays current on any state law that may effect estate plans. This allows her to draft documents that meet your needs and are legally binding.

If you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last year or longer, contact me so we can see if you want any changes made, and I can make sure they are done correctly.

Animal Trusts

Recently, I have seen posts on Facebook horse groups that ask if people have plans for the care of their horse if they are incapacitated or die. Many people say they have talked to a friend or they have written some informal agreement. Unfortunately, neither or those options are ones that will hold up if the person decides not to take care of the horse.  Luckily, there is a legal vehicle that allows you to plan for your horse’s future in the event you are incapacitated or die. That document is called an animal trust, and you can have one for every animal in your family, not just your horse. Currently, every state and the District of Columbia had some form of legislation that allows for animal trusts. While an animal trust is a stand-alone document so it doesn’t need to be included in your estate plan, it is a good idea to let your estate planning attorney know that you have or want one.

Animals as Property Under the Law

Under the current law in every state, animals are considered property. This means someone literally cannot legally step in and take care of your animal if anything happens to you because they do not own your animal. For example, if you are in a coma and your riding buddy decides to move your horse to a less expensive boarding barn during that time so she can take over board payments for you, she could be charged with theft, no matter how good her intentions. She also could not access your checking account to make the regular monthly board payments she knows you would want to make to keep your horse where it’s currently boarded. She would literally be helpless to intervene if the barn owner decided he had to file legal papers to seize your horse and then sell it to pay for unpaid boarding costs if several months went by while you were incapacitated and unable to take care of things. We all would hope that a boarding barn owner would understand but sometimes finances take first priority, especially when it’s a business that relies on that income.

Animal Trusts

The way around this problem is to create an animal trust. The trust becomes active if you are incapacitated or when you die. Once you are no longer incapacitated, it is no longer active and returns control to you to handle matters concerning your animal.

An animal trust gives you the ability to provide funds for your animal’s care and to include specific instructions concerning that care. When you set up the trust, you set aside enough money in it to take care of your horse in the manner you prefer. How much money should you put into the trust? It depends on how long you want it to last. Write down a monthly budget that shows how much it costs to take care of your animal. Then decide how many months you want to provide care. For example, you may want to provide care for six months and then have a provision that if you have not regained capacity by then, you want your animal sold to someone or given to a specific person. If you want your animal taken care of after your death, you could put in enough money to care for him for several years. Make sure that the amount is reasonable, though. While animal trusts are generally not challenged in court, an argument could be made to reduce the amount you have left for care if one of your relatives or someone you left an inheritance to claim that the amount to care for your animal was excessive. Keep in mind that you can add money to the trust. So start with what you can afford and add more if that works best for your budget.

An animal trust also allows you to name a trustee, which is the person who will take care of your animal if something happens to you. You can be as specific or general as you want concerning that care. You can leave it up to the trustee, or you can put in specific provisions you want the trustee to follow. For instance, you can include directions concerning where your horse is stabled, how she should be fed, and additional instructions about the farrier and vet visits. You can even stipulate specific things such as how you want your horse to be blanketed and special treats she should get fed. It’s always a good idea to talk to the person you want to name as trustee before you set up the trust, to make sure she can take on that responsibility and is comfortable following your directions for your animal’s care. Depending on your state, there may be other people included in the trust, such as a vet who makes sure the animal is being taken care of properly.

When you decide you’re ready to create an animal trust, contact an animal or equine lawyer in your state so you can be sure the state’s legal requirements for the trust are met. If you are a Massachusetts resident, please feel free to contact me to discuss one. Be sure to revisit the trust every year to make sure the funds you’ve set aside are still adequate and to make sure you don’t want to change any of the instructions for your animal’s care. Then enjoy the peace of mind knowing your animal will be taken care of if anything unexpected ever happens to you.

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation. 

Horse Sales Contract Basics

wills trusts equine law bridle saddle padOne of the big issues in equine law concerns buying a horse. Many people buy one on a handshake, trusting the other person at her word. Unfortunately, doing so can lead to both headaches and heartaches. Having a simple sales contract can make the experience a positive one for all parties. You want to make sure that your sales contract contains certain required parts. The best way to have a secure, and legally-binding sales contract is to hire an equine attorney to draft one. This blog explains some of the important parts the attorney will include in that contract.

Sales Contract

A horse sale contract should include the names of the seller and buyer and all the details of the sale. A thorough description of the horse should be included and one or more pictures can even be attached. If the horse is registered, then the contract should state the registry and registration number. Keep in mind that the seller is held to whatever description is included in the sales contract. For example, if the contract says the sale is for a Paint mare, then the seller has made the guaranty that she is selling a Paint mare. If she delivers a sorrel Quarter Horse instead, she is breaching that contract.

The price of the horse as well as any payment terms should also be in the contract. Sometimes a buyer needs to make payments on a horse instead of paying the entire sale price upfront. If the seller agrees to this, the payment terms should be clearly spelled out in the sales contract, including the amounts and the dates by which they should be paid. The seller can even require the payments be made in a certain manner, such as by electronic deposit instead of by check. Terms should be included that address what happens if the buyer fails to make a timely payment or is unable to pay the entire amount within the time frame specified in the contract. If the seller and buyer renegotiate the payment terms, that new agreement should be written up, signed by both parties, and attached to the original contract.

“As Is” Clauses

You may see what is called an “as is” clause in a sales contract. Such a clause means that the buyer accepts the horse in the condition at the time of the sale, and the seller makes no further guaranties about the horse. Even though these situations are common in the horse world, a buyer should still be cautious. If there is a particular issue a buyer is concerned about, for example lameness or a training issues like bucking, then the buyer should make sure that issue is addressed in the contract.

Even though “as is” clauses are legal, a seller may be liable if she engages in fraud. For example, a seller can’t lie about the horse, stating the horse is sound when she knows the horse is lame. If a pre-purchase exam (PPE) is performed the contract should mention it as well as any details, such as who will be performing the PPE. The contract should include any limitations the buyer is accepting. For example, if the vet states that the horse may need hock injections in five years or is not capable of becoming a Grand Prix jumper due to physical limitations, include those restrictions in the sales contract. Doing so can prevent a future lawsuit or aid in defending one by showing that everyone was on the same page with the same expectations about the horse at the time of purchase.

Two Important Sections

There are two sections in a sales contract that are important to include. One is an explanation of who will pay attorney’s fees if the sale winds up in court for some reason. Litigation is expensive, and you may find that you win a court case but wind up losing financially when you add in what you must pay your attorney for winning the case. You can avoid this possibility by including a section stating that the party who loses at trial will pay attorney’s fees for the party who wins. In addition, you want the contract to set forth what state will have jurisdiction if the matter goes to court. Imagine living in Massachusetts and buying a horse in California. You would not want to go to California to litigate any problems.

While it may cost a bit more, you should have an equine attorney or at least an attorney familiar with contracts draft your sales contract for you. A little bit of foresight can save a lot of time, money, and energy if something goes wrong with the sale. Contact me today if you are buying or selling a horse, and let’s make sure you have a contract in place so the sale can be a pleasant experience for all involved.

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation. 

 

 

 

Brand Your Company

You know that the reputation of your business can mean the difference because success and failure. In this blog entry, I am going to explain how registering your trademark is an important way to protect your professional reputation. If you don’t protect your brand, someone can use your name, logo, or slogan, and you can’t stop them. Someone could also use your name, logo, or slogan and hurt your business by doing disreputable business.

Two Trainers, One Stolen Logo

I once knew someone – we’ll call her Sally – who moved cross country after riding with a trainer – we’ll call her Mary – for years in Florida. Sally started to search for a new riding horse in her new home. She came across a horse on a horse sales website that interested her and went to the listed website to learn more about the horse and the person selling the horse. She was shocked at what she found. On the main page of the website was the logo for Mary’s barn! It was flipped, as if appearing in a mirror, but it was clearly the same logo. Sally knew that Mary’s brother had hand drawn the logo several years before. She immediately contacted Mary to tell her about the stolen logo. Mary was a highly-successful trainer so she said she wasn’t worried about it. She said that no one would confuse her training services with the trainer who had stolen the logo. Besides, Mary lived all the way across the country. Sally never pursued the horse that led her to the website. She figured if that trainer would steal a logo, what else would she do that was dishonest.

Hurting Your Business

horse law questions jo belascoMary didn’t think there was a problem with the other trainer using her logo because Mary was a higher-level and more famous trainer, plus she lived across the country. But such thinking can leave a business open to problems. What if Mary decided she wanted to expand her training to that area? What if people looking online simply assumed that Mary and the trainer who stole her logo were somehow affiliated and that trainer engaged in deceptive practices? Or was a bad trainer? Or abused the horses under her care? Mary might be losing clients and gaining a bad reputation without even knowing it.

Trademark Registration

Mary could have prevented these problems by registering the logo with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO defines a trademark as a “word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols, or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” If Mary had a registered trademark, then she could have had an attorney force the trainer to take it off her website, either through a cease-and-desist letter or a lawsuit.

You may have heard that you should brand your company. Branding your company is a way of identifying your business and setting you apart from your competition. Registering a trademark is an important part of branding. Why? Because one of the main issues the USPTO considers when determining if a trademark should be granted is whether it creates confusion in the marketplace. Let’s say you want to start a fast food restaurant and call it McRonald’s. Your chances of getting that trademark approved are slim to none Why? Because McDonald’s, the famous fast-food restaurant, already has that name trademarked. Allowing for two similar trademarks in the same business would cause confusion in the marketplace.

What happens if you don’t register your trademark? Well, someone else could register the same or similar name. That may not seem like a big deal but think of this. Once someone has a registered trademark, they can enforce it by issuing cease-and-desist letters to companies that are using their trademark. They can even take that company to court. Let’s say you are using a certain business name and another company trademarks it. Even if you can avoid court, you will have to rebrand. What does that mean? You have to choose a new name and reform your company with that new name. You have to change all of your merchandise to the new name. You have to let your customers and clients know. It can be a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor, as you might well imagine.

Save yourself the time, money, and headache. Contact me today so I can talk to you about the registration process help you protect your brand.