It is not a pleasant topic to think about, but having a plan in place for your cat (or any pets) in the event of your death is so important to their safety and well being. Many cats whose owners have passed away and not left instructions for them end up in a shelter, which presents a number of problems. The cats can become disoriented in the unfamiliar setting away from people they are used to and refuse to eat or drink, which can lead to dehydration and other health problems. While there are families that are interested in adopting older cats, the unfortunate reality is that there are not enough of them to take in all of the cats that who need a new loving home, and in some shelters cats can be put down if they are not adopted after a certain period of time.
In order to prevent your cat from experiencing the trauma of a difficult stay in a shelter, be sure to have plans in place for the care of your pets should you pass away—this also applies to other situations such as serious illness, long term traveling, or jail. Here are a few things to consider when making plans for your cat:
LEGAL AND INFORMAL PET PLAN OPTIONS
According to the article “If You Die Unexpectedly, What Happens to Your Cats?,” there are four different options for pet care that you can set up before anything happens:
#1 Set up a Pet Trust
Creating a pet trust allows you to select a caregiver for your cat, allot money for their care, and appoint a trustee to oversee the fund and process. The first type of trust, a traditional pet trust, holds up in all states and legally obliges the trustee and caregiver to follow your wishes regarding the money and care of your pet. A statutory trust is less detailed and does not apply in all states, but might be enough if you don’t anticipate issues with the appointed caregiver or other family members contesting the decision. You can also opt for a living pet trust, which goes into effect even if you are still alive but unable to care for your pets due to illness or some other reason. However, this option requires the help of a legal expert, and thus can potentially be costly, unless you already have an estate plan in place, in which case adding a pet might be relatively inexpensive.
#2 Provision in Your Will
One option is to update your will to list your cat as a beneficiary, and you can even leave money for their care in the hands of a specific individual. This route is appealing because it is more cost efficient then starting a pet trust. However, the risk is that the person you put in charge of the money is not legally required to follow the instructions you provide. The individual will receive a lump sum (versus money for care over time), and there is no way to ensure that the money gets spent on your cat. In addition, wills take time to administer, leaving your cat in limbo during that time, and this option does not go into effect until you die, so it does not cover the care of your pets in other circumstances in which you are unavailable.
#3 DIY Pet Protection Agreement
This document is legally valid in all states and available on LegalZoom. It allows you to name a caregiver and leave money for your cat, and falls somewhere between a provision in your will and a pet trust in terms of how specific it is. This option is more inexpensive than both the trust and will options because you create the document online yourself. It can also be applied if you are living. The only downside to this route is that you are creating the agreement without any legal advice, so you run the risk of leaving out details that could be important in the event of any sort of contest regarding the care of your pet.
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#4 Informal Agreement
An informal agreement bypasses all of the legal proceedings and is as simple as asking a friend or family member to assume care of your cat if you die. The obvious advantage is that this route costs you little or nothing to arrange, other than the funds that you leave for pet care, which you should discuss with the potential caregiver. It is also a good idea to let any other potentially concerned friends and family know whom you have selected as caregiver so there is no contest. However, the downside of this route is that you have no real control over what happens, and nobody is legally bound to provide for the cat. If you choose this route, you will also need to consider where your cat will go if something happens to that caregiver while your pets are still alive, since in a formal trust or other option you can name backup caregivers.
There are a lot of viable options depending on how much money you are willing to put into a plan and what potential caregivers you have available. It might be a good idea to seek legal advice if you want to make sure you are pursuing the most reliable option.
SELECTING A CAREGIVER
Once you have determined which legal or informal option you will use to pass along ownership of your cat, the next step is to select a caregiver. Depending on which option you choose, such as the traditional pet trust or the DIY plan, you can name both a caregiver and someone to handle the finances. This can be the same person if you have someone you trust for both roles, but the advantage of having two different people is a little oversight and perhaps an opportunity for them to share knowledge and help each other out with your cat. For a trustee, you will want to choose someone who has both money and pet smarts (who could perhaps not take care of your pets themselves for some reason or another). The most important thing is to select individuals who are going to give your cat the kind of loving home that you have given them.
In the article, “What Happens to Tiger if You Die?,” cat owner and animal caregiver Colleen Patrick suggests informally “training” potential caregivers on how to care for your cat, or cats. Particularly if you have more than one cat, they might have different idiosyncrasies or needs that are simple to accommodate, but a future owner might have no way of knowing what these things are, so take the time to make sure you talk to them in person about your cat(s)—even if you are perfectly healthy and don’t anticipate anything happening.
The next step is to put together some information on your cat for a caregiver, whether it is included in your will or left as an informal “Care Kit.” It should include things like their records, medical needs, and general caregiving information. Here are some examples of what to include in your instructions, as suggested in “What Happens to Tiger if You Die?,”:
- Chronic medical conditions
- Vaccine records
- Neuter/spay certificate
- Food type/amounts of food/feeding schedule
- Special games your cat likes to play and favorite types of petting/cuddling
- General schedule, including waking up and bedtime
- Where they sleep (i.e. bed, create, pillow)
- Whether or not they can travel
- Fears that spark aggression or anxiety and ways to calm the cat
- Whether or not they can eat human food
- For sentimental purposes, something that smells like you for the cat and pictures of the cat’s life with you for the new caretaker to look at to help with bonding
Other information, suggested in “If You Die Unexpectedly, What Happens to Your Cats?,” might include grooming needs, exercise routines, and pet sitting, as well as more legal information if you are providing for your pet in a will or trust, such as the funding process for expenses, caregiver accountability, and a burial or cremation plan for your cat.
If you decide to leave money for the care of your pet, you can estimate the expenses based on what you annually spend on pet care multiplied by the cat’s life expectancy. Additionally, you will want to factor in extra money for unexpected expenses, particularly if you want medical care to go above and beyond. However, be wary that if you leave your pets an extremely high sum of money in a will, this might make family members more likely to contest the will, and sometimes judges will reduce very high amounts.
You might also consider whether or not you are paying the caregiver and/or trustee for their efforts. They might not ask for money, but you might consider trying to show your appreciation for their care of your cat in whatever way you can afford.
While no one wants to think too much about unexpected morbid possibilities, do the right thing for your cat and take steps to ensure that he or she not end up alone in a shelter system.
Do you have a plan in place for your cat? Please share your ideas/experiences below to help others.