Estate Planning for Reptile-Lovers: Who Inherits the Crocodiles?
An unusual Ontario case involving a man who owned almost 200 reptiles has highlighted the importance of making a Will.
Karel Fortyn, was a Welland, Ontario man who owned nearly 200 exotic reptiles. Among them were two Orinoco crocodiles (kept in a tank with three-inch thick bulletproof glass), Namibian coral snakes, Ceylonese palm pit vipers, Bolivian lanceheads, Monitor lizards, Indian cobras, a Gila monster, a ball python, and a Taiwan beauty snake. Karel was a true “character”: he had an unbridled passion for exotic pets, set up a zoo for the public in his own house, and engaged in frequent legal battles with the city of Welland, which sought to enforce a by-law against keeping exotic creatures.
Karel’s passion became a pressing issue, however, when he died unexpectedly at the age of 52 from a massive stroke. Unfortunately, Karel did not leave a Will. This being the case, he had not named an Executor for his estate and left no directions as to how he wanted his estate divided. More importantly, he gave no indication as to how he wanted his collection of exotic pets to be dealt with and cared for after his death.
Because Karel died intestate (i.e. without leaving a Will) his assets – including the reptiles – were subject to distribution according to the provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act, which essentially sets out a detailed hierarchy in terms of who is entitled to the assets and in what measure.
In particular, the Act dictated that ownership of Karel’s reptiles would be awarded to his next-of-kin using the following formula:
1) If Karel was married with no children, then everything goes to his spouse.
2) If Karel had a spouse and children, then his spouse gets the first $200,000 of his estate, with the remainder being divided amongst the wife and any children (with proportions governed by how many children there are).
3) If Karel was not married, then everything gets divided equally amongst his children.
4) If Karel had no children, then his estate goes to his parents equally.
5) If his parents died before him, then Karel’s estate goes to his siblings equally.
6) If there are no siblings alive, then the estate goes to Karel’s nephews and nieces equally.
7) If there no nephews or nieces, then it goes to other relatives in a statutorily-defined order.
8 ) If there are no other next of kin, Karel’s estate goes to the Crown.
As it turns out, Karel was survived by only one sibling, a brother named Jan. Still, the matter had to go to court over certain disputed issues between Jan and the estate’s administrators. Ultimately, after a six-week trial, full ownership of the reptiles was awarded to Jan who donated almost all of Karel’s cherished reptile collection portions to two Ontario reptile zoos.
Leaving aside the handy refresher on the law relating to intestacy, I’m just glad I don’t have a brother who’s into reptiles, because I certainly wouldn’t want to inherit almost 200 of them.