Dead Things That'll Bite You

As an estate sale professional, it is important to remember that you have a legal liability for everything you sell, especially when it comes to endangered species’ parts, like migratory birds, eagles, and ivory. When a client hires you to liquidate their estate, remember that the individual probably has no knowledge of many of the laws pertaining to selling animal parts. In your implication that you’re an expert in the area of estate liquidations, you’re assuming a fiduciary responsibility as an expert in your field and your client is relying upon you to have the knowledge and expertise to both sell their items for maximum value and to keep them immune from legal prosecution for the improper sale of illegal items that may be contained within the estate. Should you improperly sell any illegal items on their behalf, not only do you incur the risk of prosecution, but you have also exposed your client to the possibility of prosecution. They will have legal recourse for any detrimental situation you have exposed them to. Ignorance of these laws is no excuse, and violations can result in fines or misdemeanor or felony convictions for both you - the estate sale professional - and your client. Below is a short discussion on each of the laws.

1940 Eagle Protection Act:
Question: Where do bald eagles go when they die?
Answer: To the National Eagle Repository in Denver, Colorado. 

Why? To be delivered by permit to American Indians who are able to own both Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle taxidermy and parts for cultural purposes. That includes eagle feathers. They are the only individuals allowed to own these bird parts, unless the eagle had been acquired before 1940, in which case the owner may own and pass it down in the family, however, American Indians with permits or the owners of pre-1940 eagle parts with legal possession may NOT sell them. The government can recommend either a misdemeanor or felony change and a variety of fine levels for the sale, attempted sale, or illegal possession of eagle parts.

1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act:
This treaty was created to limit the trade in bird feathers and parts which had disseminated many species and led to the extinction of some bird species in the early 1900’s. It covers over 800 birds with exceptions only made for commonly hunted waterfowl such as some ducks, pheasants and similar birds. Every raptor (which includes owls and hawks) is covered. It is illegal to possess, sell, or cross state lines with such birds. The list of covered birds is available here. While the title includes the word migratory, many birds are not really migratory. For instance, the turkey buzzard you see eating dead animals on the side of the road is not really migratory, but is covered, though I’m not sure why anyone would have a buzzard mounted. Selling a bird protected by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act can result in a felony or imprisonment for up to two years. Fines can range from $100,000 for a misdemeanor to $250,000 for a felony conviction. The government seems reluctant to maximize penalties, and most offenders are charged with a simple misdemeanor and a small fine unless they are shown to be trafficking and exporting such items. You still get the privilege of paying for your own legal counsel.

It is illegal to sell ivory in the US, unless it is over 100 years old and you can prove it is antique through documentation. You cannot prove its age simply by saying that it looks old. Ivory can be legally sold if it passed through a certified port, was inspected by the Fish & Wildlife Service at the time of entry, and the item carries a USFWS certification as to its legality. The bottom line is that in most states, you likely cannot sell ivory in any ward’s estate. The ivory restriction includes ivory in musical instruments, statues, jewellery, chess sets, dominoes, etc. There have been recent changes in the law in both New York and California to allow the sale of antique items containing less than 5% ivory and for ivory used in musical instruments, which may result in an amendment of Federal laws. Marine mammal ivory that has been hand worked by native tribes or Eskimo tribes or fossil mammoth ivory can be sold. Ivory can be owned and passed down within a family. 

Endangered Species: 
There are many items, such as big cat pelts or fur clothing, monkeys, elephant, turtle parts, rhinos, etc., which can only be sold if you can prove they were acquired by the owner before December 27, 1973. The proof of legal possession needs to be in place before one sells these items. If legal, you can only sell them in the state where they reside to an individual who resides in the same state. Again, fines and convictions can be quite severe as listed above in the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

State Wildlife Laws: 
There are also many state wildlife laws one has to be aware of. In Florida, it is illegal to possess native mink, weasel, round tailed muskrat, or Key Vaca raccoon parts. In Kentucky, you cannot sell spotted skunk parts. In Arkansas, you cannot possess or sell alligator snapping turtles. In South Carolina, you cannot sell wild turkey parts. In many states you cannot sell black bear parts. The laws vary from state to state. A good site to begin your search as to various state laws is Always check the laws or check with the State Wildlife officials to see if the item in the ward’s estate is legal to sell or possess in your state

The Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2002: 
Finally, it is illegal to sell dog or cat fur and that includes a mounted pet dog or kitty.
Caution is always the best action when it comes to animal or bird parts: 
When advertising items for sale which are legal to sell in your state over the internet but may not be legal in surrounding states, it is important to clearly state that the items are ONLY for sale in your state to residents of your state. You do not want to run the risk of prosecution by another state or the USFWS for illegal solicitation or sale of endangered species or other prohibited items. You also do not want to expose your clients to prosecution as an accessory to your illegal solicitation. They, would have legal recourse for damages caused by your actions.


By Dale Smrekar

President, Downsizing Advisory Service, AEL, C.A.G.A.