Bee Responsible – End of Life Planning

I do not want to write this particular Bee Babble. You probably don’t want to read it. As human beings, we are socially conditioned to avoid talking about or thinking about the possibility of our own disability or death. As responsible partners, parents and members of the community we live in, we must make plans to ensure that our bees are cared for and do not become a major nuisance to our family or friends.

In this article, I am going to talk about what you should document, and the conversation that you should have with your family, your “Bee Buddies” and your estate executor. At a minimum, what you should write down and tell someone where to find it, in case of the worst.

Everybody Dies

This topic has been on my mind long before we first learned about SARS-Cov-2 virus first ravaging Wuhan, China. I asked myself: “If I were to die tomorrow, or end up in a coma, have I made adequate preparations for my wife to deal with my ten beehives?” We went through an exercise in 2012 when I had foot surgery. Although the procedure had a very good expected outcome, sometimes people die under general anesthesia or from complications after surgery. So I made sure that Paula had a document that described all the little details that she needed to keep on going after I was gone. Things like the names of our banks and credit cards and all the usernames and passwords for the online accounts that are needed for day to day existence. I taught her how to use 1Password to retrieve the current passwords, and gave her a list of key contact people for our estate management. I put the document in a secure location and verified that she knew how to find it. Every year or so I pull it out to make sure that nothing significant has changed. If it has, I update it and print out  a new copy for her.

One very important thing that is missing from that document is anything to do with my honey bees. I and my partner keep bees together. In fact, Dan owns one of the hives on my property, Stanley. He bought all the woodenware, he bought the bees, etc. I took the beekeeping to Eleven over the past few years. We plan to manage things as a partnership, but I have not gotten caught up on the basic bookeeeping. There is no mention of bees or beekeeping in my Will, because that is overdue for updating. No matter how you slice it, if I were to drop dead tomorrow, somebody would have to figure out what to do with 8 to 10 beehives. Unfortunately, I am the only person who knows the critical details.

COVID-19 is Here

I think that beekeepers in the DMV have a very cohesive community of intersecting local beekeeper clubs. I have met some beekeepers at outreach events who are not part of a club, and perhaps are discreet about the fact that they keep bees. Under ordinary circumstances, I think that we might lose a few beekeepers per year, per club. Most of these deaths would not be sudden or unexpected, although there are some risks in beekeeping.

What we are facing with COVID-19 is the very real possibility that people are going to get sick and die, or become severely disabled (e.g., in a coma, unable to communicate, etc.) We can hope for the best, but the statistics of what we know are terrifying, and there is a lot that is not known. Most of the information about SARS-Cov-2 on the CDC web site is based on a different coronavirus because this one is brand new. The other area of concern are the demographics of who has the worst outcomes from COVID-19 … People over 60 years of age, and people with chronic medical problems. We have our fair share of people in that category in our community.

The expected contagion rate is in the range of 60% to 80% of the population. Social distancing is not going to change that. The whole point of social distancing is to spread out how the time range of when everyone has their case, in the hopes that our hospital system does not get overwhelmed. If that happens, the mortality rate will skyrocket, not only from COVID-19, but from other medical problems that require hospital attention (severe allergic reaction, accidents with a hive-tool, smoker burns … ).

We are all going to lose family and friends before this is all over. Some of us are going to be the family member or friend who does not survive. We must accept this and make preparations in case this happens.

What Happens to Your Bees When You Die?

Honey bees are livestock, not pets. We love our bees, and it is great when you have multiple members of your household involved with caring for the bees, but that is not always the case.  Here are some questions to think about (in no particular order):

  • Do you really want your grieving partner to have to puzzle out what to do with your bees?
  • Does your estate executor know how to inventory and appraise the value of the assets that comprise your beekeeping operations?
  • Who should be offered your bees and your equipment when you die?
  • If you become disabled, who should be contacted to take care of them until some of the details are worked out?
  • If you have out yards, where are your bees, and who are your contact points? What agreements do you have with your hosts?

Hives full of honey bees are not something that can just be boxed up and put into storage with your books and furniture. They are a colony of living insects that require some degree of training and experience to handle. Yes, they will probably survive without intervention for a month or two. On the other hand in an urban area, bees that are not managed for mites will become mite bombs that kill your neighboring beekeeper’s hives. An abandoned hive of bees might make it very challenging for your next of kin to sell your house. Do the honey bees convey to the new owners?

Let’s help our next of kin by providing some documentation. I don’t have a fill-in form  put together right now. If someone else does have one to share, please contact me.

What They Need to Know Right Now

You need to provide your loved ones and your personal representative with the name, telephone number, email address or URL of a beekeeper who is willing to be consulted on your behalf. Some possible candidates would be: Your Mentor; A Mentee; A “Bee Buddy;” Another nearby beekeeper. If you can’t find someone, you should ask on your local beekeeping club list to find someone who is willing to be consulted.

Provide contact information for your nearest local beekeeping organization and your state beekeeping organization. These can be a resource if there are problems finding your designated apiary estate consultant. They also should be informed of your demise and arrangements to share with their members. If you have any special requests, such as an honor guard in bee suits with lit smokers at your funeral, they are most likely to pull it off.

Also provide contact for your state bee inspector. If the hives must be moved, they may need to be inspected. In many cases the state bee inspector can be very helpful to provide advice on how to handle some of these issues.

Once they get in touch with someone who knows about bees, the following information is important:

  • How many colonies do you have?
  • Where are they all located?
  • If you have “out” yards, what is the contact information for each of those yards, and what are your arrangements for access?
  • Where are your hive records, and how can they be accessed? If you don’t keep any records … perhaps this is a good time to start? Blue paper painter’s tape and a permanent marker work for brief notes on top of the telescoping cover or on the back of your hive boxes.
  • Do you have any swarm traps deployed that need to be monitored?

You should include some language for your executor that grants him/her the authority to designate a temporary caretaker for your bees, and allocate funds as needed for the care and feeding of your apiary until the final disposition is determined.

What They Will Need Later

This depends on you and the scope of your operations, and what you wnat to happen. Some of this will be necessary for managing your estate, some will be necessary for disposing of your bees. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few things that I have thought about. I am not an estate lawyer, you should not take this to be legal advice, etc. Clearly you should discuss this with your own estate lawyer. You will not find anything useful on this subject in any “Do It Yourself” estate planning kit!

Who Gets Your Bees and Woodenware?

This is not as simple as it sounds. You can’t ask your executor to pack up your hive and deliver it to someone else. Moving bee hives requires planning and a willing recipient with a place to put them. If this involves crossing state lines, your state bee inspector will have to be involved.

If you want your bees and equipment to be liquidated as part of your estate, you should have your executor enter a discussion with a beekeeper of your chosing (see above). It would be wise to find a beekeeper who knows the community who would broker the sale, for some kind of compensation.

If you want your bees and equipment to be offered to another beekeeper as a gift, your executor will still need to assess a fair market value for the estate. Again, finding a trusted beekeeper who understands the issues and can act as a go-between will be helpful.

Perhaps you want to donate directly to your local or state beekeeping organization. Excellent idea, but please, make contact with somebody at that organization now, before you become incapacitated, to find out how they want to handle this. It is extremely burdensome, even when there are no live bees involved, for the treasurer of a bee club to receive a call like : “Rob really loved being a part of your club, and he wanted us to donate all his bee equipment and library to you. When can you pick them up?” Most clubs do not have space to store more equipment until they can have a club sale or giveaway. Even if your club has a teaching area, your gear might not be what they are using. You want to help your club, not drive them crazy.

If your bee club is not comfortable receiving your woodenware directly you can direct your executor to liquidate it, and donate the proceeds from that sale to your club. Or you can designate a fixed amount or percentage of your estate after all your assets have been liquidated.

Other Assets to Consider

  • Your beekeeper reference library. You might want to offer it to one of your local clubs to update or augment their library, or to sell to members to benefit the club. Remember that they might not need a fourteenth copy of The Backyard Beekeeper. Are there any books that you have borrowed from your club or another beekeeper?
  • Your extracting, processing and bottling equipment. Do you have a stockpile of jars somewhere that should be disposed of as part of your apiary assets?
  • Are you the custodian of materials that belong to another organization : the library, outreach materials or posters, the club extractor sets, etc. You want your personal representative to return them to their owner instead of inventorying and liquidating them as part of your estate.
  • Honey and hive products. Your loved ones and your personal representative might not realize that a 5-gallon bucket of honey or a 35-pound block of wax might be worth something.

Other Questions to Address

Many of these things are addressed in a business continuity plan (BCP), if the apiary is managed as a proper business. If that is the case, you can skip this stuff. On the other hand, if you are a hobbyist or a sideliner who sells products, these may be things to consider addressing in your BCP.

  • Do you have hives out on pollinator contracts?
  • Do you have any borrowed equipment? Have you loaned out any equipment?
  • Do any of the hives in your apiary belong to another beekeeper? Do you have any hives in another beekeeper’s yard (e.g., exchange of apiary space for mating yards)
  • Do you have any honey or hive products on consignment somewhere for sale?
  • Do you have any sales contacts that should be notified in case of your sudden cessation of operations?
  • What are the arrangements and agreements that you have with the owners of your out yards? Did you have some plan in place that you were mentoring someone with the intent that they would eventually take over the hive in their yard?

What Else?

So this is something that I cobbled together just to get it out of my head. What else should beekeepers be thinking about? We don’t want our bees to die of neglect, even if we do. We don’t want our loved ones to get stuck holding the bag (full of bees). Let me know what I missed … either comment here, or shoot me a message.

Stay healthy … let’s get through this alive. But just in case, let’s make sure to take care of our loved ones and our bees.

Warning : This pages are part of my ‘Bee Babble’ series. The content is intended for a specific audience and is subject to my disclaimer

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