The Common Law

Dog law – dogs can't be 'trusted'

Can I leave money in my will to my dog so I can be sure that he is taken care of if I die before he does?

No. Texas law does not permit you to leave money directly to your dog (or other household pets). But before you start worrying about Fido spending his remaining days in a pound, you may want to consider other options that will still allow you to take care of the dog in the event you die first.

One option is to add a bequest to your will that gives a set amount of money to a trustworthy friend or relative on the express condition that they agree to care for your dog. Because there is no sure way to be sure that the person is actually using the money to properly care for the dog, you'll want to name someone that you can trust.

Another option is to create a trust. The trust would be made for one person (or a number of people if necessary) and would allow distributions from the trust to be made in order to take care of the dog. You can create this kind of trust while you are still alive or you could provide for its creation in your will.

I own a quad-plex with students renting each unit. One of the tenant's dogs recently bit another tenant. The tenant who was bitten has asked me to pay for some of his medical bills. Does the law require me to do that?

Under Texas law, a landlord has a duty to keep the common areas of a property reasonably safe for tenants and their guests. Regarding your tenant's dog, you would have a duty to protect the other tenants if you knew, or had reason to know, of the dog's vicious tendencies.

For example, if you had been warned about this dog's viciousness – through previous bites, attacks, or warnings from other tenants – you could be liable for the medical bills. Alternatively, under the "every dog gets one bite" approach used in Texas, if you had no idea of the dog's vicious nature, you generally would not be required to pay for the medical bills.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

dog, dog law, trust, will, bite, liability, bequest

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