Karel Fortyn was 52 when he died of a stroke in early May. He was a life-long lover of reptiles, and he’d built a business around them: Fortyn was the owner of the Seaway Serpentarium in Ontario, Canada. The Serpentarium, operated out of Fortyn’s home, boasted a collection of more than 200 snakes and other reptiles – many of them rare species.
Aside from his collection of reptiles, Fortyn left behind a former common-law wife and a brother, but, unfortunately, no Will. Now, his brother and his former wife are not exactly in agreement as to what should happen to the reptiles – not your ordinary custody battle!
Fortyn’s brother, Jan, is Fortyn’s next of kin and has taken responsibility for finding local facilities to take the reptiles in. “I would like that the whole collection be kept together somewhere else in my brother’s memory,” said Jan Fortyn. “It shouldn’t be split if possible.… What you can see here is his kids.”
Fortyn’s former common-law wife, Dana Kubias, wants the reptiles to go to the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Peterborough, Ontario. The owner of the Indian River Zoo was a friend of the couple, and Dana had already started making arrangements to transfer the animals.
Hopefully, Jan and Dana will be able to resolve their disagreement quickly and amicably.
There are a few steps Fortyn could have taken to make the aftermath of his death a little easier to deal with for his beloved reptiles, his family, and even the employees at the Serpentarium. A Will or Living Trust would have been an excellent first step in providing guidance for who should be in charge of settling his estate and what should happen to his reptiles and his other property. If he wanted the Serpentarium to continue in operation, a business succession plan would have provided just what it sounds like – a plan for who should be in charge and how the business should continue to be operated. If he didn’t want his business to continue (and had he lived in Texas or one of the many other U.S. states that recognizes them), a pet trust could have been established to name a caretaker for Fortyn’s reptiles, to put in place guidelines for how these exotic pets were to be cared for, and to provide some means of support for the animals.
Not all of us have a house stocked with 200-plus reptiles, but each of us will leave behind an estate that needs to be settled. Without a plan, our loved ones, like Fortyn’s can be left to deal not only with their grief, but also with conflict, uncertainty, stress and strain.