What Happens to Your Cat if You Die?
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.
#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.
Jolie, you are certainly impressing us with your fantastic writing skills here – please don’t stop!!!
Yes, B.A.T.H. is a hideous four-letter word when applied to our Fabulous Felines 🙂
Jolie, you are a brilliant lady and an excellent writer 🙂
Thank you, Beth, but I’m fairly close to being a moron (really) and my writing days are long over. Kind of.
Thank you, Jenny, for providing us with this great information. None of us like to think about this situation but it’s a very real & important need that requires careful attention & planning for our little loved ones.
Patti & Pink Sugar 🙂
Jenny, that is a very good article. It really got me thinking. I plan on getting a ragdoll kitten around Christmas time ( I will probably get two). You always need a back up plan, because you never know what could happen , anything can change in a instant.
Pre-dying Hints from Heloise:
One thing that may or may not work for people. It doesn’t work for me because my cats were raised by wild boars deep in the Nevada jungle and have no manners or couth.
If you have a serious illness, you can get something that I think is called Lifeline (that may be something else–I’m sick, OK? I can’t remember things!!) It’s a pendant or bracelet. If you’re in trouble, you press the center. The Lifeline (or whatever they’re called) people will try to call you and your emergency contact, then they’ll send out an ambulance. Meanwhile, it sets off an alarm on your home phone which makes a fire alarm sound like a whisper.
It didn’t work for me because the cats kept pressing the center of the pendant all the time and alarms would go off. Then I’d have to call the Lifeline people and say it was a false alarm but they couldn’t hear me above the alarm. Take it off and it turns into a cat toy. If you’re having a hemorrhagic stroke, do you think you have time to look under the couch and the bed? Better to put 911 on speed dial. Make it #1. I know this sounds stoooopid, but people often forget the # for 911 while saying it aloud to themselves: “What’s the number for 911?? Oh, God, what’s the number for 911??”
If you’ve got a complicated name – basically anything other than Smith–uncomplicate it for 911 purposes. Jenny knows what my last name is. I pronounce it and then I spell it, and no one ever gets it right. So I just give the dispatcher a portion of my name, and if she misspells it, I agree wholeheartedly. “Halford.” “So that’s Heiffer?” “Yes.” What’s important is your address.
Jolie, I don’t know if I’m putting my replies to you in the right place but I hope you’re able to see them all. I must have misunderstood about The Washoe County “No Kill” situation. I’m happy to hear the shelters have full-time vets and vet techs though.
Adult cats winding up in the pound instead of the shelters is very sad! The kitten/cat intake/adoption ratio you described is even sadder! Most of my darlings are or were adult cats who found me or were given to me. I’m usually drawn to grown cats nobody wants because I feel they need me most. Older cats in general are perfect companions for older people like me.
I’ve been blessed with two adorable kittens in the past ten years. Sammy Mouse was the smallest of five newborns left beside a highway; he was the image of our Samson who we lost to cancer months before. Calliope is my blizzard rescue kitten; she had pneumonia, frostbitten ears, feet and tail. (My vet introduced us.) I promised both babies they’d lounge in the lap of luxury if they survived 🙂
Beth, technically the SPCA is a no-kill shelter and the Humane Society is striving to become one. But they’ve had to make some hard choices in pursuit of this vision. As you probably know, they get the bulk of their cats from Animal Control. Most people want kittens, so that’s what the shelters take, at least during kitten season. Pedigreed or purebred-looking adults are always popular. But a five-year-old brown tabby domestic shorthair? Like you, I love the older cats; I can feel their histories. The Humane Society has introduced some interesting adoption policies to increase adoption rates – two-for-one and half-price specials, for example. $10 black cats. So far, I haven’t seen any “all the cats you can cram in a carrier for $50” marketing ploys – and I hope I never do.
Bless your soul for bringing the abandoned orphans into your home and heart. If you still live in Washoe County, I’m wondering if they were dumped in Washoe Valley or on Hwy. 50, which is where I’ve found many orphans. I can’t see stop signs or large trucks, but I can spot a sentient creature in distress at 500 yards =).
Jolie, I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to get back to you 🙁 No, I haven’t lived in Washoe County for almost 40 years but I remember it as the better part of the state. You’re absolutely right about the popularity of “fancy cats”. I’ve had two Ragdolls (both rescues, many years and miles apart) which is how I came to find this wonderful website. I’ve had Manx, Angora and Himalayan but mostly I get Heinz 57 varieties. Each has a special personality not necessarily associated with appearance or breed. After the heartbreaking loss of sweet little Sammy Mouse, my husband wanted to take me to a shelter and have me choose a pair of Ragdoll kittens. Destiny intervened so we have two domestic shorthair winter rescues instead. I’ve found I love the flawed pets best, whether their flaws are physical or emotional. If I’m meant to have another Ragdoll, one will come into my life. If not, I always have a houseful of wonderful babies to warm my heart and paint my world gorgeous colors. Just like you, I can easily spot the ones who need my love most 🙂
wow beth you are a smart lady. if i had my own house and the money that would be my ideal. i think thta would be the least stressful for the cats. you are a great cat mommy.
Thank you, Patricia 🙂 My kitties are my furry children and I want them to have the best of everything always.
Thanks for this informative article. I need the motivation to get this done, too, maybe this will help! I had some serious surgery several years ago and I worried more about what would happen to my kitties if I didn’t make it than my actual outcome! Had serious talks with my sister and boyfriend who wouldn’t really acknowledge the issue, but knew my wishes. Need to immortalize what I want to happen and make sure they are okay financially.
If you are young and premiums are affordable, you might think about getting a life insurance policy especially for your kitties’ benefit. Pets can’t be actual beneficiaries but you can make arrangements with someone you trust completely and have an attorney put it all together in air-tight legal terms. I hope this helps, Irunning!
Jenny, thank you for featuring this very important issue! Our kitties are my biggest priority both now and when I die. My husband and I have a joint will in which we specified who will care for our pets and who will supervise. (The attorney recommended this arrangement, also primary and secondary executors and caretakers if any are unable to serve.) Kitties will remain in our home together for the rest of their lives with loving neighbors providing their care and comfort. Even with all this protection in place, I sometimes fret about what could go wrong. I’ve seen and heard of the most heartbreaking situations…
I have a large manilla envelope taped to the inside of my front door. In it, I have typed instructions re: what to do with the cats if I am hospitalized and not expected to return home or if I die or if I am found dead. On the front of the envelope, I’ve written in red Sharpie, “EMERGENCY RESPONDERS–OPEN IMMEDIATELY. Advance Directive to Physicians and Other Important Information.” I figured if I wrote “Advance Directive,” someone might actually open the envelope. (I updated this after Zen and William died.) I carry copies of the instructions with me in my purse or backpack, too.
i knew you’d have a plan. and what are your instructions, if i may be so nosey…and if you don’t mind sharing. i am sure you have more ideas than i have thought of!
Right now I’m really tired but this is something I’ll gladly share. I think it’s really important. Just keep this up a couple of days, ok? (Waited all day for UPS–“Zen’s” driver had the gall to take vacation–because the substitute driver claimed my road did not exist and then that my address did not exist and then…I think I went into a fugue state to avoid homicidal ideations. Waited two of those hours outside, with the driver zooming by me once as I frantically yet futilely attempted to wave him down, so I’m very glad I have those instructions on my door/purse. Perhaps I should modify them to include “lengthy period of incarceration.”)
lol that’s funny. not the situation but the way you told the story.
I don’t know how the UPS guy could miss a 6-ft. tall woman, dressed like a flamingo wearing a hot pink floppy brimmed hat, attached to an IV pole which was shielded by a Laurel Burch umbrella. (We don’t do neutrals here. The more flamboyant the better.)
And why was I so desperate for UPS, why couldn’t I reschedule? Was I waiting for shoes, a lamp, maybe some art supplies? No. Krill oil!!! ($&%*!@ krill oil!!! The cats had enough to last through Saturday. I am positive they would have dropped over dead without it.
I did volunteer shelter work for decades. Folks would come in with decedents’ animals–and we could not accept them. For the most part, we had to refer them to Animal Control (aka “the pound”) as the animals had not been under their custody or control for 30 days or more. If people died in their homes or hospitals without emergency contacts, the public administrator would direct the sheriff’s office to take pets to Animal Control. Same for pets whose owners had been arrested. (This obviously did not occur if another adult permanently resided at the home.)
At that time, Washoe County allowed 3-5 days for these animals, a week less than strays. If they were not adopted within this period, they were euthanized. For those who are not faint of heart, there’s a YouTube video showing how Clark County (same throughout the state) Animal Control euthanizes pets. It’s not by lethal injection.
These memories still haunt me. Five of my cats came from the sheriff’s office because my clients/patients were involved. One came directly from a patient. We often talked about our cats during sessions. I didn’t see this coming: He brought his beautiful torbie into my office, allowed me to hold her, placed her back in her carrier, took the carrier to the back of my office, and then blew his brains out across my desk. All six of these cats were terribly damaged, or, as my daughter said when she was little, “used.”
I have only two cats now and the house seems so empty. It is unlikely that I will outlive these cats. They are unadoptable. Jolie is 19 and has multiple health problems. Isabella is 17 and is hard-core feral. Given this, my options are limited, but I *do* have a plan that has been accepted by the three parties involved: my daughter (hereinafter “daughter”), the microbiologist who has known the cats since they were born and who processes their labs and who once lived with us (hereinafter “biologist”), and the wonderful autistic kid down the street who knows exactly what and when the cats eat and has a special bond with them (hereinafter “hero”).
I’ll have to finish this later today because already I am tired and I have to play (1) hide the bananas and (2) fishing pole before I take a nap.
bev, forgive me for not remembering – but were you a therapist? are those the clients you’re referring to?
i have heard the horror stories about how shelters “euthanize”. do not need to watch that today.
Yes. In my former life, I was a therapist. But, obviously, or perhaps not so obviously, I could not return to that after the stroke. That part of my brain was gone, as well as the right parietal and occipital lobes.
No need for anyone to watch the euthanasia videos. I mentioned it because it explains in large part why I’ve taken such extreme measures to prevent the cats from ending up at Animal Control. You can volunteer or work at a shelter, but unless you’re in the clinic or the isolation or euthanasia rooms, you have no idea what really goes on back there. To paraphrase Nietzsche, be careful when you stare into the abyss that it does not stare back at you.
Bless you for adopting the “used” cats (a very good description) and for having plans in place for the two kitties you still have! You are a wonderful person!
Thanks for informing readers of the bitter truth they may not consider otherwise. Sadly, the legal system overall considers animals disposable. Pet owners don’t face this issue until they see it themselves. Those of us who’ve been involved with fostering, rescue, shelters and human societies know what happens.
It’s been my understanding that Washoe County has made amazing strides with a No-Kill facility in recent years. I hope that’s true.
Again, thank you for using this venue to give a big wake up call.
Conditions *have* vastly improved within the two major Washoe County shelters. To call the SPCA a no-kill shelter, though,is somewhat misleading, but that’s a dark place I can’t allow my mind to go. The SPCA and Humane Society have full-time vets (plural!!) and techs in fairly new buildings. Great directors.
Animal Control is no longer the hellhole it was, but that’s where all the older cats wind up now. That particular statistic hasn’t changed in 30 years: 75% of the cats relinquished to Animal Control are adults, but 75% of the cats adopted are kittens (under one year old). I truly feel sick to my stomach, but it could be the heat.
Will write out my plan tomorrow. I have so many trusts and deeds and accounts and supporting documents that one would think I’m a billionaire engaged in money laundering and other shady money dealings. Goldman Sachs, I ain’t. I’m just trying to protect my beloved cats and the bureaucracy of death has a way of interfering with that.
Just a couple of things to add to your instructions:
(1) Name, address and phone number of veterinarian(s). If you have multiple veterinarians, include specialty and any quirky stuff (Dr. X, dentist; do not allow any other vet in that practice to touch the cats).
(2) How to brush teeth, groom, clip claws, noting the cat’s quirks and preferences.
(3) Names and websites or addresses of suppliers. Be specific as to what and when you purchase, including autoship dates.
(4) As addenda, recipes for food (if you feed raw) and gel caps (if you administer multiple meds this route). Location of items.
(5) Known allergies.
(6) Names, phone numbers or websites of individuals or groups that can help out the caregiver (the Yahoo CRF Group, for example).
(7) If you have multiple cats, include and identify photos of each cat. This is especially important if your cats are on different diets or medications.
Jenny, you’ve done an outstanding job putting this together. Ensuring a pleasant future for our cats is the last best thing we can do for them. We promised them forever when we brought them into our homes.
Water!! I forgot to add water to my extra instructions included hereinabove!! Many cats drink tap water, many drink filtered water, mine drink distilled. So if your cats drink “special water,” include that in your instructions.
Part II–Protecting Your Monster Babies
I looked through my “As I Lay Dying” junk today and wondered how I’ve been able to live so long without someone institutionalizing me. There’s a fine line between eccentricity and pathology, and I crossed that line in the obsessive-compulsive department decades ago.
Anyhoo, the most important pieces of paper I have are the two instruction sheets. Duplicate originals are on my door and in my purse, as are an advance directive and a living will. The first sheet says, essentially, if I am incapacitated or worse to contact Biologist immediately. The second sheet refers to every other document, medical record, instruction, paper, drug, slide and [anything else you can think of], by color code and desk drawer or cabinet. It makes no sense, at least to me, to make all these great contingency plans for your cats if no one knows where to find the stuff or knows who your attorney and emergency contacts/caretakers are and how to contact them. Every time I update and replace the instruction sheets, I send copies to Daughter and Biologist. (I know they roll their eyes.) Hero can’t read, but that’s about his only limitation. He knows Jolie is Purple and Izzy is Yellow.
When I first began writing Part I, I thought Part II would include the various documents I’ve prepared or caused to be prepared to protect my cats, and the inter-relationships among Daughter, Biologist and Hero. No. What works for me may not work for someone else. I love my Daughter, Biologist and Hero as much as I love Jolie and Isabella, and I don’t want my death to be financially painful for them. I have a living trust. I have a life estate in my Tahoe house but it legally belongs to Biologist. If she wants to move there, fine; if she wants to take the cats to her place and sell the house, fine. And do I really expect her to feed the cats like I do? Oh, hell, no, even though they’re her kids, too. I know I’m a wacko. When and how to euthanize is in her sole discretion. I am fortunate that the three most important humans in my life all get along well.
I am really bummed that I will not be able to control my loved ones’ lives after my death. I have to find some way around this =).
I may not yet have a plan in place, but I will be thinking about it and acting on it now that this is the second time this subject has come up in the past week! Here in NYC a few days ago, a lady ran after her Boston Terrier, who got spooked and ran under a Sanitation truck while it was stopped. The driver started to roll while she was under the wheels attempting to grab the dog and though the dog made it out, the owner did not and was crushed under the wheels leaving the dog frightened and whimpering on the sidewalk. I’m glad that I have family who will take care of my pets, but I think making a plan for their care is an important step in being a responsible pet owner. Thank you for the information and ideas you provided.
omg, how horrible is that about the boston terrier owner – HORRIBLE.
thanks jenny. i was just thinking about this the other night as it was so hot i thought.. “crap what if i just died from the heat? what would happen to my babies?” the thought of them just being alone until someone found me would be scary. i couldn’t stand thinking about them being toted off to the humane society. they would have no idea what was happening and they would be afraid. it’s something we all need to think about, especially if you are single and living alone with your cats.
yes, i would want mine to stay together too – the idea of them being separated from one another breaks my heart.
Excellent article! Thanks so much for the guidance. It gives me much to think about, and I need to start working on this issue and setting up care for my Hawkeye “in case of emergency”. Thanks so much!
I need to do the same – might have been trying to motivate myself with this one.