Dogs, death & deceased estates

Posted in KUSA News

Death and taxes are the only sure things in life. Have you made provisions for your dogs in your will to protect their future?

If you have dogs who are dependent on you for their care, you need to face the hard truth: What will happen to your dogs when you die?

Dogs are our four-legged family members, but in the eyes of the law they are our property. This is not necessarily a bad thing – as the owner of your dogs, you have every right to take care of your dogs as you see fit. Whether this means leaving all of your property to your dogs or simply making plans to transfer your dogs to another person for safekeeping.

The last thing you want is for your beloved dogs to enter the system and potentially end up in a shelter.

Every pet owner needs to consider and prepare for two possibilities for the lifetime of each pet: What will happen to my pet if I should suddenly pass away and what will happen to me when my pet dies? Let’s explore both possibilities to ensure that we are completely prepared to take care of our dogs, no matter what happens in the future.

What happens to my pet if I die?

Dog owners must prepare a detailed will and testament to specify what will happen to their pets if they should pass away suddenly. Will your dogs be transferred to another person’s name or will your heir inherit all your dogs too?

From an administrative point of view, the KUSA office needs to ensure that all dogs are registered in the name of their rightful owner. If a dog’s owner passes away, the dog’s KUSA registration status will still be active, but registered ownership sits with the deceased estate. To transfer the dogs into another person’s name, the KUSA office must receive the order from the executor of the estate to request the transfer.

The KUSA office can only transfer ownership of dogs in a deceased estate upon receipt of duly completed application form signed by the executor of the estate. This application must be accompanied by a death certificate and letter of executorship issued by the Master of the High Court.

Without successful transfer of ownership, the potential of a prize-winning dog may forever be lost to the KUSA fraternity because you cannot register any offspring without the permission of the executor of the estate.

If you do not leave a will, your estate will be subject to intestate succession where the court will appoint a person to dispose of your estate as per the Intestate Succession Act, no. 81 of 1987. Your assets will be distributed to your heirs or spouses at the will of the court-appointed executor, and this leaves your estate to devolve as per the pre-existing rules of intestate succession as set out in the abovementioned act.

In the case of intestate succession, the KUSA office must receive a Letter of Authority from the Master of the High Court that authorizes a person as the executor to the deceased estate.

What are my options?

Testamentary Trust – You can transfer ownership of your dogs to a trust which includes instructions for your dog’s care and money to pay for it. This trust must be provided for in your will and it is advisable to put something in place for the interim period immediately following death until such a time that the Master issues a Letter of Authority to the executor. You can name a caregiver and appoint a trustee to oversee everything. There are two types of trusts available and it’s advisable to speak to your lawyer before deciding which trust to set up.

Inter-vivos Trust – An inter-vivos trust can be of benefit if and when the owner becomes incapacitated due to serious injury, illness or advanced age. In this situation, a curator is usually appointed to administer his or her affairs.

Will Provision – You can’t leave money or property to your dogs because they can’t enforce their rights, but you can bequeath money and assets to a person on the condition that this person takes care of your dogs. All wills must be in writing and signed by at least two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will.

Keep in mind that this approach does not allow you to leave (and enforce) instructions for the care of your dogs. Unlike a trust, you cannot distribute money for care over time or ensure that the money is spent on the dogs at all.

Should you go through the painful process of a divorce, you will have three months to amend your will. If you pass away within these three months, the bequest to your divorced spouse will not be in force. But if you have not changed your will within three months, bequests to your divorced spouse will not necessarily fall away.

Informal arrangement – You can skip all of the above and ask a trusted family member or friend to take your dogs when you die. This type of agreement costs nothing, but it also doesn’t give you any control over the care your pets receive after you die. You will also need to consider what will happen to your dogs if your family member passes away before your dogs. With this type of arrangement, you will not be able to ensure the successful transfer of ownership of your dogs because the KUSA office may only act on a request from the executor of your estate.

Other things to consider – If you live alone, carry a card in your wallet that states who should be called to take custody of your dogs if you die.

Estate planning is nobody’s favourite pastime, but it’s vitally important to your dogs’ health and well-being. Depressing? Yes. Sad? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

More resources for estate planning:

Report a Deceased Estate – This article shows you exactly how to report an estate to the Master or to a service point of the Master.

Intestate Succession – This article shows you what happens if someone dies without a will

Netto Invest – This website offers great information on estate planning and trusts

Estate planning is a must – This article gives great insight into planning your estates.

What happens to my pet’s KUSA registration if it dies?

KUSA knows how important your dogs are to you and how hard it is to say goodbye. The last thing the KUSA office wants to do is to make this process any more difficult than it already is.

We humbly ask that you notify the KUSA office in the case of the death of your dogs to ensure that the KUSA database is kept accurate and current. It is also advisable to return your dog’s KUSA registration papers to the KUSA office.