The curious case of Ms A: When your pets become your heirs

by | May 25, 2023 | Advisory Services | 0 comments

Sentinel’s Marietjie Strauss & Karla Willer recently administered an estate that was straight out of a movie. Ms A and her menagerie of cats were proof that fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction. But with Marietjie and Karla on their side these lucky felines were guaranteed a Hollywood happy ending…  

We all know people who treat their pets like humans. But what happens if your pets become your heirs? You might think, “Ja right, that only happens in the movies!” Well, think again…  

We recently administered a very interesting estate where the deceased (let’s call her Ms A), had no family. Her husband had passed away many years ago, she’d never had children and she didn’t seem to have any close friends. We could tell from Ms A’s numerous collections (more about those later) that she was a most interesting lady.  

All systems go

Because she had no family or close friends, it was “code red” when the social worker advised us of Ms A’s passing.  We immediately had to put measures in place to:  

  1. Care for her five cats, who were all to be kept inside her house at all times. 
  2. Administer the upkeep and security of her home. 
  3. Apply for urgent Letters of Executorship to be able to buy cat food, pay the caretaker, utilities, etc. 

But this was just the beginning. The real fun and games started when we received the Letters of Executorship. As a temporary solution, her neighbour kept an eye on the property, while one of Ms A’s employees looked after the cats. In the meantime, we started indexing the contents of her home, which ranged from odd cutlery and cupboards full of clothes to a very comprehensive collection of teddy bears and Renaissance-era dollhouses, complete with hand-crafted furniture, portraits, crockery … The works. To call her a collector would be an understatement. What an unbelievable experience!  

It took us weeks to carefully unpack her house, keeping in mind that she had no family to assist and we still had other Estates to attend to. After indexing her assets, we approached an auctioneer to sell off the general movable assets. 

A whole new world

We then had to do extensive research to find the perfect purchaser(s) for these collections, most of which were designer, limited edition items. The teddy bears were sold to a lady who owned a specialist teddy bear shop.  

The dollhouses were a bit more challenging, so we decided to arrange a blind auction. After a bit of research, we invited interested groups for viewing … What an interesting bunch of people who all seemed to know each other! Most of them also knew Ms A and had a lot of stories to tell, all confirming what we already knew: She was different, eccentric and a lady never to forget. After the viewing, prospective buyers had to submit their offers (highly confidential) to reach us on a specific date by a specific time. We then opened these offers and notified the highest bidders of their successful bids and made arrangements with them to pay for and collect their items.  

The day of collection was a sight to see. Each house had two or three stories and six or more fully decorated rooms. Each and every item had to be packed in tissue paper, bubble wrap, newspaper, you name it. And off they went to their new families!  

But what about the cats? 

Fret not! The cats were well looked after while we sorted out the sale of the teddy bears and dollhouses. Among other things we:

  1. Interviewed prospective candidates for the role of “cat-taker”. The person we chose would have to be able to live in and maintain the property while taking utmost care of a number of rather traumatised cats.  
  2. Arranged a vet to do a house visit, to chip and vaccinate the cats. The chips were necessary for us to be able to identify the cats. 
  3. Arranged for the house to be vacated, cleaned and disinfected (this was all happening in the middle of Covid).  

Fortunately, we managed to appoint the perfect caretaker, who is doing an outstanding job; not only looking after the cats, but also maintaining the house to a high standard. These lucky felines inherited Ms A’s property and wealth, kept in Trust until the last cat passes away. On the death of the last cat, the Trust will dissolve and the benefit will be donated to a charity of Ms A’s choosing. 

And they all lived happily ever after

Being an estates administrator is never dull, but this was definitely one of the more interesting cases either of us had ever worked on. It was also a deeply satisfying one. In a movie-like estate, we managed to honour Ms A’s wishes and are thrilled to report that the cats adapted well to the caretaker and are living happily ever after.