The following section will be an ongoing column where readers can ask questions regarding legal matters. To ask your own question, send it to Stable Management, P.O. Box 644, Woodbury, Conn., 06798, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I own a boarding stable and have been approached by two women who jointly own a horse and want to board it. Is there anything special I should look for in this situation?
Co-ownership of horses is becoming increasingly common and this situation presents a special problem for the professionals caring for the horse. This group includes farriers, trainers and vets as well as the boarding stable’s management. The problem arises in determining who is responsible for making decisions and payments related to the horse.
Legally, two (or more) people who own a horse together have created a partnership in which all partners are equal. This means that both partners have an equal ability to make decisions and are equally liable for any debts. The problem arises when the two partners don’t agree on something, or one partner refuses to pay his share leaving the barn manager to figure out who is in charge.
Unfortunately with horses, many decisions need to be made very quickly and the equine professional should not be required to get everyone’s consent before acting in an emergency when minutes can count. If there is disagreement, the situation deteriorates rapidly. If Partner A says operate and Partner B says put the horse down, whose request do you follow? And expecting the partners to always agree is highly unrealistic.
Or, another scenario might be you’re unable to reach Partner B, but Partner A says you should do everything that you can for the sick horse and that money is no object. You call the vet, who diagnoses a twisted intestine that requires surgery. You transport the horse to the nearest equine hospital and the operation is successful. Now there are veterinarian bills of approximately $10,000. Partner B shows up and says that she didn’t authorize spending anything and will not pay a dime. Partner A says she is only a half owner and responsible for only $5,000. At this point it looks like you’ll be heading to court to determine who’s liable for the remaining $5,000.
While you’re not in a bad legal situation, much of this problem could have been avoided. Before the partners bring their horse to your barn, make sure you receive a limited power of attorney from one partner that gives the other partner the power to make all decisions regarding the horse and ascribes them financial responsibility for those decisions.
“...the equine professional should not be required to get everyone’s consent before acting in an emergency...”
The limited power of attorney removes you from any battles between the partners, because you are acting in accord with a legal document. A limited power of attorney can be revoked, but it must be done in writing and, in this case, the revocation should be provided to you.
Avoid the problems and insist that the partners agree to a limited power of attorney, written by a lawyer. Don’t get involved in their decision-making and don’t get involved in the “I’ve got to contact everyone” game.
This article is not intended to constitute legal advice.