When it comes to faithfully protecting the home and the family, dogs come through time and again with flying colors.
Argos, the dog of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, was probably the first dog ever mentioned in literature. What else would he be known for than an unwavering loyalty to Odysseus and his household that spanned two decades? Argos did not go with Odysseus when he left to fight Troy, instead staying behind to look after the household. But Odysseus failed to return home for twenty years, spending ten fighting a war and another ten famously struggling to get back home.
When he finally returned, unfortunate circumstances forced Odysseus to enter his household in disguise, and no human recognized him. But the moment Argos caught sight of him, disguise and all, the faithful companion “raised his head and pricked up his ears” in obvious recognition of who had finally returned. The aged dog died on the spot, finally at peace knowing that his master had come to reclaim the household that Argos stayed back to protect.
A more recent example of the extreme loyalty dogs show to their families can be seen in Toto, the little black dog who accompanied Dorothy from Kansas to Oz and back again. Although he was small, Toto stood up to lions, witches, flying monkeys, and a fraudulent wizard to protect his owner. Then there’s Old Yeller, who heroically protected his family from a bear, wild hogs, and a rabid wolf—the last rescue tragically costing him his life in the end.
Who can forget Pongo, the family-man dalmatian who risked everything to save his puppies (and a couple others) from the evil Cruella Deville and her henchmen? Not every hero dog is brave. Take Fang for example, Hagrid’s huge dog in the Harry Potter stories. He’s afraid of almost everything, but he is still willing to stand by his owner’s side and accompany the students on one dangerous journey after another to keep them safe.
For most humans, thankfully, protecting the family isn’t as risky as that job can be for dogs. It does, however, require planning. That’s why our firm’s motto is “You Need a Plan” and why I wrote a book with that phrase as the main title.
What does it mean to “protect the family” in that context? The first thing I advise clients to think about is protecting the family from probate court. This doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require prudent estate planning. When a person dies owning assets, that person’s estate cannot pass from one generation to the next without a court process known as probate unless certain steps were taken in life to avoid that necessity. In other words, probate is the default, and it’s on you to do things to avoid that trap. There are many ways to avoid probate, and the plans we propose vary from family to family and, in fact, from asset to asset. But one thing is worth noting here—having a last will and testament is not, in and of itself, enough to avoid probate court.
The second thing I advise clients to think about is protecting the family from unnecessary taxation. When an estate planning attorney like me talks about taxes, we’re usually not getting into issues relating to annual income tax returns. When it comes to estate planning, the biggest risk is inadvertently setting up your family for surprise capital gains taxes on real estate or accelerated taxation on retirement accounts through poor planning. But again, as with the risk of probate court, these risks can be avoided by prudent estate planning.
The third thing I advise clients to think about is protecting the family from financial ruin resulting from the high costs of long-term care, for example, a move to a nursing home. Many people believe that you must get rid of everything long before entering care or spend every penny you have on that care before any financial assistance is available for long-term care expenses. That could not be further from the truth. If you or a family member needs long-term care, you owe it to your family to seek professional guidance to protect the people that matter most and the assets you worked for all your life.
Dogs may get all the publicity for protecting their families from danger, but I know you want to protect your family every bit as much as our loyal, furry companions do. It’s just a little more complicated for humans.