Earlier this month, a cat living in Tampa, Florida was hit by a car. Unfortunately, collisions between pets and motor vehicles are not in themselves uncommon. What is unique about this particular case is that Bart the cat, who was declared dead and buried on January 16, 2015, emerged from his grave five days later, very much still alive.
While there may not be any legal implications of an improper declaration of death when its subject is a cat, such a declaration may have a profound impact on the administration of the estate of a human being, as well as that person’s ability to resume control over his or her own affairs.
Under the Declarations of Death Act, individuals residing in Ontario can be declared dead, notwithstanding the inability to locate the body of the person who is presumed to be deceased. Sometimes the Act (and comparable legislation in other jurisdictions) is applied in situations where, like Bart, no death has actually occurred. Last spring, for example, a man living in Illinois was required to go to Court after being declared dead prematurely. While he was able to establish that he was still alive with little difficulty, it was ordered that he personally pay the legal fees related to the administration of his Estate to date.
Such cautionary tales should serve to remind us that applications under the Declarations of Death Act should be used only as a last resort, when it is certain that the relevant individual is, in fact, dead.
Bart, who was badly injured, is reported to be on his way to making a full recovery.
Have a great weekend.