We trust this issue of
The Senex finds you well as you wind down your work-week. Though this issue is a bit shorter than some of our others, we came across one story this week that really caught our attention and we wanted to share it with you.
Curt Autry with NBC12 investigated this question and reports on his findings at the link above. In our experience clients rarely request to be buried with their beloved animals. But when they do, it raises a number of thorny legal issues related to the authority of an executor, the authority of the decedent’s next-of-kin to make decisions related to bodily remains, and the licensing requirements for veterinarians and funeral homes. Mr. Autry does a good job of presenting the issues for veterinarians and funeral homes, but he doesn’t speak to the executor or next-of-kin concerns, so we’ll fill in a few details here.
When someone dies in Virginia and leaves a will, another person (usually a family member or friend) typically qualifies as the executor of the decedent’s will. The executor is given custody and control by the local court over all of the deceased person’s property, including pets, and must then follow the instructions for the property as set forth in the will. If the will contains instructions about the pets, the executor is required to follow those instructions provided the will does not direct the executor to do anything illegal. However, the executor is not given legal authority over the decedent’s bodily remains—by default the body is under the legal authority of decedent’s next-of-kin. The next-of-kin can then direct a funeral home as to whether the decedent should be buried or cremated. Sometimes the next-of-kin and the Executor are the same person, but often they are not. And when a deceased pet owner wants his body (or cremains) to be buried with his property, we must address the issue of whose authority will be decisive.
If you love your pet and want to appoint someone to care for it after your death, we’d recommend that you read the linked article written for our blog a few weeks ago. It offers a great overview of the considerations pet owners face when doing an estate plan and includes a thorough explanation of a Virginia Pet Trust, which is often the preferred legal means for planning for your pet upon death.
As always, if we can be of service—to you or your pets—please let us know.