Livestock brand ownership a succession factor

Death of the brand holder could result in significant cash flow problems for some ranch families without proper planning

CALGARY — Farm families usually put serious consideration into who inherits the land, the livestock, the barns, and the equipment, but one item that is often forgotten is the livestock brand.

As co-executor of my parents’ estates, that issue came into sharp focus for me. They died the same year, my father first. The property they owned had already been transferred. Other assets went first to my mother as my father’s beneficiary, then to us.

However, we didn’t think about the livestock brand, which had been held in my father’s name. My brothers didn’t rely on branding anymore.

Unfortunately, one old cow still bore the brand. When she was sold at the auction market a brand hold was put on the cheque for that animal. The question of theft was even raised.

After 20 emails, several phone calls, preparation of forms and lengthy discussions, the issue was resolved with the Livestock Identification Service and a new cheque for the cow was issued.

Adrienne Waller, legal counsel of Livestock Identification Service Ltd., said brands must be registered in the name of the person or entity (corporation or partnership) that owns the cattle.

“The purpose of a brand is to evidence the owner of the livestock,” she said. “It is prima facie (correct unless proven otherwise) evidence, based on the presumption that the person who owns the brand owns the animals.”

However, agreements or bills of sale may establish different ownership.

The cheque for one cow was small so it wasn’t a matter of income in this case, but for some farmers and ranchers the death of the brand holder could result in a significant cash flow problem. In our family’s case, had my father prepared the LIS designation of beneficiary of brand form (O-2) and kept it with his will, these issues would not have come up. (LIS forms are at www.lis-alberta.com.)

If farm assets and inventory are listed in the brand owner’s last will and testament, the brand can be transferred to the named beneficiary. If not, the brand will fall into the residue of the estate and must be transferred to the person named as the residuary beneficiary, who may or may not be the beneficiary who received the cattle bearing the brand.

If a person dies and the representative does not transfer the brand within two years, LIS can cancel the registration of the brand.

I thought my father’s name and those of both my brothers should have been registered as brand holders, but Waller corrected me. The more names on a brand, the more co-operation is needed to sell livestock. Also, it complicates the process when families break up their operation, whether by retirement, incapacity, one person choosing to quit, marriage breakup, or death.

“Some parents want to give the brand to all their children to keep it in the family. If all the children do not own the cattle or do not get along, the brand cannot be used by anyone,” said Waller.

“If a farm or ranch is incorporated, the brand should be registered to the corporation. Otherwise, if the individual who is the owner of the brand dies or becomes incapacitated, there is no one to sign the livestock manifest to direct the sale proceeds to the company — and not the individual. The corporation can’t cash the cheques. If the brand is in the name of the company, there would be no issue.”

Also, when cattle or horses escape, the registered brand owner will be looked to for payment of any damage they caused.

Livestock manifests can be signed by the livestock owner or by that person’s agent.

“A farm hand could sign a manifest as long as the name on the manifest is the owner of the brand,” Waller said.

The cheque goes to the owner.

“But if a cow comes in with your brand but your husband’s name on the manifest, then you’re required to sign the manifest so he can get the money.”

Waller emphasized the importance of using bills of sale, not only manifests, as documentation.

“Half of the time a manifest doesn’t reflect the terms and conditions of sale. It’s one thing if cattle are going from the farm directly to the auction mart, which is the agent for sale. It’s another thing if millions of dollars’ worth of cattle are in a big load going to a packing plant.”

Brands in Alberta can be individually owned, co-owned or jointly owned, or can be singly owned by a corporation.

If co-owned, the owners can transfer interest to another person or to the remaining person. In that case, the owners should name beneficiaries using the LIS form. If jointly owned, the brand transfers to the survivor(s), using a simple form with death certificate. If owned by a corporation it simply continues.

Waller said the LIS office has many deceased brand holders, brands with multiple owners, old brands that should be revoked so other people can acquire them, brands that should be transferred, and owners who think their farm corporation owns the brand but instead it is personally owned.

Emotional issues also surround brands. They may be considered heirlooms rather than assets.

Brands in Alberta used to be renewed every four years but in 1998 the provincial government sold the brands outright. The province privatized the system and gave LIS the brand registry but not the money. Although fewer farmers now use them, the number of registered brands is still significant: 45,429 as of March 31, 2020. This included 473 new brands and 363 transferred brands.

About 50 percent of the inspected calf crop is branded, comprising 869,104 calves last year alone.

Saskatchewan and British Columbia still use brand renewals, not outright ownership, but the need to properly transfer or name beneficiaries still applies.

For moreinformation visit www.lssc.ca for Saskatchewan and www.ownershipid.ca for British Columbia.

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