7 Things to Consider in Providing for Your Cat When You Die

animal=law

First, the disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Consult an estate attorney before taking any action.

Was one of your New Year’s Resolutions to get your house in order?

No, I’m not talking about Susie Homemaker activities. I’m talking abougt making sure you have a will, and a solid plan for your cats’ care if you predecease them.

In the last couple of years, several experiences got me obsessing about my own mortality. Cancer (twice) and a TBI with complications. Carrie Fisher’s death hit me hard. Hubby had two heart surgeries this last year. All helped me appreciate that life is fleeting.

Hubby would continue to provide a home for the cats if I were gone, but what if we both were killed in an accident at the same time? Would it be days before anyone thought to look in on the cats?

It’s likely that you are among the 91% of Americans with wills who have not made provisions for their pets*, and far too many animals end up in shelters due to an owner’s death (or move to a care facility).

When I put some thought to it, I have no idea who I would name to care for our cats. No family no speak of who’d be able to step up and add four cats to their household…they’re all dog people, and my cats freak out over dogs. My “cat people” friends have more cats than they know what to do with. It’s a stumper, but I’ve gotta figure it out.

Here’s what you need to consider when providing for your cats when you’re gone.

1) Pets are property in the eyes of the law.

They’re family to you, but the courts view them as property. Translation: You can’t leave money to them in your will or trust. You need to name a caregiver and allocate funds for your cat’s care. If you have any concerns that the designated caregive will take the money and run, you can set up a Trust wherein the money is doled out on an as-needed basis by a Trustee.

2) Trust in Trusts.

Unlike a Will, a Living Trust does not go through probate and access to the funds is immediate. It can take months for a Will to go through probate.

3) Don’t trust a handshake and a kiss.

Yes, you want to get a verbal agreement from the designated caregivers that they will lovingly care for your cats, but it means nothing until it’s in a legal document.
Make sure they’re “cat people.” You don’t want them to turn the cat in to a shelter a few months down the road when they realize they don’t like cats after all. If they are cat people and have cats, it’s a good idea to establish ahead of time whether their cat(s) would accept new additions to the household.

4) Purrvide purrsonalized care instructions

Keep your cat’s medical history and requirements (including where medications and medical records are kept) in an easy-to-find place. In addition to health requirements and vet info, include:

  • Feeding instructions
  • Health history
  • Toys, games, and other activities
  • Grooming and claw trimming: World War 3 or a piece of cake? If it’s the former, describe your process.
  • Favorite blanket
  • How s/he likes to spend the day
  • Instructions on maintaining your cat’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram

If your cat requires daily treatments like insulin injections, be absolutely sure that at least a few people who are close to you are aware of this and have access to your house. In the case of injections and infusions, it’s good to take these people through a few practice runs.

The better picture you can give of your cat’s lifestyle, the happier s/he will be in the new home.

5) Complete a budget.

Put together a basic budget. At the very least it should include:

  • Food
  • Treats
  • Shelter
  • Veterinary care
  • Medications
  • Cremation

There’s no time like the present to track the expenses for your cat.

The budget should cover the anticipated lifetime of your cat. A cat who is in robust health could live 20 years or longer. A cat with health problems might not live as long, but will incur higher veterinary costs. Your veterinarian might be able to assist you in your estimations.

Any funds left over in a Trust can be designated for donation to the charity (or person) of your choice.

6) Power of Attorney is powerful, even if limited.

If you are incapacitated, you may be unable to care for your cats. So, you may want to give either the designated caregivers or a trusted friend/family member Power of Attorney.

Power of Attorney authorizes someone to pay bills if you are unable to do so. You can create a Limited Power of Attorney that is strictly limited to handling your cat’s expenses if you do not want that person managing all of your bills.

Is Power of Attorney overkill? Hell, no. My MIL was legally blind and could not sign checks. Yet, setting up a  Power of Attorney made her squeamish and she refused to recognize its value. While she was incapacitated in the hospital, my husband designated me as the family forger and I signed her name to critical payments like health insurance premiums and property taxes (I hope this admission doesn’t land me in jail.) I experienced high anxiety worrying that the checks would be declined because the sigs did not match and then her health insurance would be canceled… and on and on.

7) Give out the keys to the kingdom.

Make sure at least a couple of people have your house key so that they can get to your cats to care for them or let other people in to care for them. Sure, burly men can knock the door down, but it’s so much easier if one has the key.

 

* Based on a survey by the American Pet Products Association

For more info, read the WSJ article, More Americans Are Writing Their Pets Into Their Wills 

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Category: Cat Food, Featured, Last Week, Pawpular Culture, zzz Previous 3 cat articles

About the Author ()

Mousebreath Magazine is an award-winning online magazine that celebrates cats and the cat-centric lifestyle. Editor Karen Nichols is a popular conference speaker and writer, whose current project is The Cat Scout Handbook. She is also the denmaster at CatScouts.com.

Comments (4)

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  1. Ellen Pilch says:

    I keep telling my husband we need to write a will, preferably have a trust. I know my mom would care for the cats if we were both in an accident, but she is getting older so I need an alternative plan. Such a tough thing to deal with.

    • Mousebreath says:

      We’re in the same boat. And the only close relative is a spiteful alcoholic nutcase who, I’m sure, would just send my boyz to the pound. Every local cat lady I know is full up. I’m thinking of leaving our amazing cat sitter a trust.

  2. KRISTEN V says:

    There is also a designation you can put on an account called Transfer On Death that supercedes a will for those particular assets. The assets still go through probate but they are immediately available (literally on death) to the beneficiary. Most financial institutions have this and it’s usually just a form to be filled out, no lawyer required. then, when the time comes, all the beneficiary needs to do is present a death certificate to the financial institution to claim the assets. Faster than a will and cheaper than a trust. But as was noted in the article, make sure the beneficiary is someone you can trust not to scram with the funds. And please please please check with your tax professional first!

  3. The Hubby isn’t interested in making anything legal, but really, there isn’t anyone of my or his relatives nearby who could jump in to care for the cats, if both of us are incapacitated. Hmmm….

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