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Although nobody likes to think about their eventual demise, it’s essential to think of your cat and how they’ll be cared for when you’re no longer able to do so. If you’re wondering, “What will happen to my cat if I die?” you’ve come to the right place.
What happens to your cat when you die depends on how you plan for your death. You should have clear instructions as to who takes your cat and how the future guardian or guardians should carry out their duties. You should also provide the finances necessary for your cat to be cared for as you desire.
Keep reading to find out more about how you can plan for your cat’s care following your death. We’ll give you everything you need to ensure your cat doesn’t live out his or her life in a high-volume shelter without you to take care of them.
We also included an additional FAQ by Amy Shever from 2nd Chance for Pets.
- Step 1: Determine Who Will Care for Your Cat
- Step 2: Formally Ask Beneficiary
- Step 3: Arrange for Care
- Step 4: Create Care Instructions
- Step 5: Leave Instructions Where They’ll Be Found
- What If I Can’t Find Someone to Care for My Cat?
- How Much Money Should I Set Aside for My Cat’s Care?
- Final Thoughts
- Additional FAQ
- Q: How is a live-in caregiver selected?
- Q: What safeguards are in place to ensure the quality of care?
- Q: Does the mortgage on the home have to be fully paid off for this plan to work?
- Q: What else should people consider in setting up a plan like this?
- Q: Does the trust maker need to leave money to cover the trustee’s costs as well?
- Q: How often should the estate plan be reviewed?
- Q: How can people get more information on this method for ensuring lifetime care for companion animals?
- Q: What other safeguards do you recommend?
- Q: Do you have a final recommendation for pet owners?
Step 1: Determine Who Will Care for Your Cat
The first thing you’ll need to do is find someone who’s willing to take over ownership of your cat after you die. Think about your friends and family members and determine which home would be best for your cat.
Here are a few things to consider when looking for a new potential owner for your cat:
Cat or Pet Experience
If someone has no experience with cats, that doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from being able to care for your cat. However, it does help to know that the person taking your cat when you’re no longer there to care for them knows what they’re doing.
Size of Household
Some cats do better in smaller households without too many hands and feet. If your cat has lived alone with you her whole life, adjusting to a ten-member home could be overwhelming. This is particularly true if your cat wasn’t around children, and their new home has several.
Number and Type of Other Pets
In addition to the number of people in the house, you also need to consider pets. Some cats are fine with other felines, while others prefer to be the one and only cat in the house.
You’ll also need to look at the other types of pets someone has. Will your cat attempt to eat them? Will they attempt to eat your cat? If you’re not sure how well your cat will get along with someone else’s pets, you may want to arrange some “pet play dates” to see how things go.
Size of Home
Most cats do well in even the smallest of spaces since they don’t require a lot of exercise and can get it in a limited area. However, cats do like to have at least one area to call their own. So, if there are too many other people and pets to allow your cat to have her own space, you may want to move on to other candidates.
No matter how many people and pets are in a home, every home has its own environment. Some are louder, with people constantly coming and going. Others are quieter with much more consistency. Make sure your cat’s personality is matched to the home environment they’re going into. Otherwise, she’ll end up being over- or understimulated.
If someone doesn’t have the financial ability to care for your cat the way you want them to, you may need to find someone else to care for them. However, since you can provide financially for your cat’s care after your death, this may not be an issue.
Step 2: Formally Ask Beneficiary
Once you’ve figured out who’s best suited to care for your furry friend after you’re gone, you need to formally ask them to take on this role. We recommend taking them out for a meal and addressing the issue there.
Let them know that you’ve carefully considered your options and feel they would be the best caregiver for your cat. Then, ask them if they’re willing to take your cat should you die. If they agree, you can move onto the next step. If they don’t, you’ll need to pick the next best person on your list.
Step 3: Arrange for Care
Now that you have your beneficiary for your cat, you need to make sure everything happens as planned since you won’t be around to ensure they hold up their end of the bargain.
There are four ways to arrange care for your cat after your death. Based on what you know about the person you found to take your cats, you can pick an option that best works for both of you.
1. Make an Informal Arrangement
This is by far the easiest since you’ve already set it up at this point. By asking someone you trust to take care of your cats, you’ve made an informal arrangement with them, and this could be the end of it. However, many people prefer to take it a step further and get it in writing.
There are some reasons not to simply leave it at this step. For one thing, the other person can change their mind, and then there’s nothing official about what happens to your cats. Also, there’s no way to ensure your cat is getting the level of care you want.
2. Include a Will Provision
If you’re already creating a will, this is another cheap option since it won’t cost you much beyond what you’re already paying. One of the benefits of a will is that you can also provide money to your cat’s beneficiary to help them cover the additional costs of caring for your cat.
However, this money provided will be given as a lump sum, and there’s no guarantee that it will be spent on your cat. There’s also an administrative process that has to happen before a will is executed. During this time, your cat’s care is completely up in the air.
The best situation in which to include this is when you trust the person you’re giving to your cat, but simply want to make sure that there’s no fighting over your pets after your death. By adding a provision to your will, it lets everyone know exactly who you want to have your cat.
3. Create a Pet Protection Agreement
The next step up from a provision in your will is creating your own pet protection agreement. You can do this yourself, and it typically costs less than $100, so it’s relatively inexpensive. It allows you to have more control than a will provision and can be implemented in the event of a serious illness or injury.
While this is much better to have than leaving it up to chance, there’s still one more option that will give you the maximum amount of control over the care of your cat after your death. You can learn more about how to set one up on Legal Zoom.
4. Set Up a Pet Trust
By far, the best thing you can do for your cat before you die is to set up a pet trust for them. It allows you to appoint both a caregiver and a trustee over your cat. The caregiver is then legally obligated to care for your cat the way you instructed.
A pet trust gives you the most control, which includes allowing a certain amount of money to be released every month to care for your cat. This means the financial burden of caring for your fur-baby is not on the caregiver, so they can provide the best care for her.
Another benefit to this option is being able to split the responsibility between two people. This means you can appoint someone as a trustee who cannot care for your pet themselves, but who has the best interest of your cat in mind. Then the caregiver can work with them to make decisions.
The biggest disadvantage of this is the cost that goes into setting up a pet trust. Initial costs can be between $500 and $2,000. However, for the peace of mind it gives you, it’s well worth the investment to know your cat will continue to receive quality care.
If you want to learn more about setting up a pet trust, you can read through this article on Nolo.
Step 4: Create Care Instructions
Even if you’re sticking with an informal agreement or will provision, you should still include as many instructions as possible for your cat’s new caregiver. This will help guide them in caring properly for your cat. With pet trusts, these instructions are legally binding.
Here are a few of the instructions you’ll want to make sure you write out. When creating a pet trust, the lawyer should ask you questions to ensure all of these aspects are taken care of.
You need to start by including information about your cat’s veterinary office, and where to take her in the event of an emergency. From there, you’ll also want to specify what type of veterinary care they receive, and how often.
Veterinary care may include:
- Types and frequency of vaccines
- Dental cleanings
- The frequency of check-ups and what these include (bloodwork, medication, etc.)
- Flea prevention
What type of food does your cat eat? How often do they eat? How much do they eat at each meal? What type of treats do they get? How many treats should they get a day?
These are all questions that should be answered as part of your cat care instructions. You should include the food your cat currently eats, but also offer a couple of alternatives in case that food is discontinued in the future.
Cats need exercise as much as the next living creature, and you can specify how much exercise they get and what type. For example, if you take your cat on a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood every morning, you can specify that your cat continues to get their daily walk.
Something else you can specify in a pet trust to ensure your cat is well-cared for is what supplies the caregiver provides for them. If your cat loves her floor-to-ceiling cat tree, you can say that one must be provided for her.
With a pet trust, you’ll also need to specify how much money can be spent on these items and how much of the cost will be reimbursed.
Your cat’s life will end at some point, hopefully at a ripe old age. When planning your own passing, you’ll also want to plan what happens at your cat’s. In addition to planning on whether your cat is cremated or buried upon her death, you’ll also need to specify at what point euthanasia should be considered.
If your cat has a favorite toy or brand of catnip, you’ll also want to make sure these are included in the instructions. There are also additional decisions to be made when a pet trust is in place as to how the money is provided to the caregiver and how much the caregiver is overseen in their care.
Working with a lawyer while creating a pet trust can ensure that nothing gets left out.
Step 5: Leave Instructions Where They’ll Be Found
Once you have everything together, you need to make sure the instructions are left somewhere safe and easily accessible. This will ensure they’re found quickly after your death, so your instructions regarding your cat can be carried out as soon as possible.
What If I Can’t Find Someone to Care for My Cat?
In the event that you can’t find someone you know to take your cat after you’ve passed, there are still options for you. There are organizations in place that will take your cat and work to find them a new forever home for you.
As with the other options, you’ll want to provide as many detailed instructions as possible for the organization so the new owner can give your cat the best home. You’ll also want to include the information about the organization with your important paperwork.
While many of these organizations are non-profit, we recommend leaving a donation to them as part of your will. This will help them care for your cat while they find her a new home, and will help them continue to work to find homes for every cat they take when someone passes.
How Much Money Should I Set Aside for My Cat’s Care?
It can be difficult to know exactly how much money you should provide for your cat’s caregiver. However, you’ll want to start by figuring out how much you spend on basic supplies and veterinary care every year.
Figure out about how many years of life your cat has based on the average cat living to 15 years. Then, multiply that by your basic yearly expenses, and you have your starting point.
Once you know how much food and veterinary care cost, you’ll need to add in extra expenses such as unexpected trips to the vet and cat supplies. An emergency trip to the vet can easily end up being thousands of dollars, so the more you have set aside for your cat, the better care they’ll receive.
Something to keep in mind is that you don’t want to have too much money set aside for your cat. If you do, this increases the chances of the will being contested. In one case, a woman named Leona Helmsley left $12 million for her dog Trouble. After the amount was contested by surviving family members, he “only” ended up getting $2 million, with the rest going to her charitable foundation.
We hope this article helps you create a plan that works for you and protects your cat from ending up in the system after your death.
When you bring a cat into your home, you’re committing to care for that animal for their entire life. If that expands beyond your own life, it’s important to make sure they still get the level of care they deserve.
By thinking ahead, you can ensure your cat receives proper care for the rest of her life. Although it may sound complicated, it’s worth the effort to know what will happen to your cat if you die first.
Written by Amy Shever from 2nd Chance 4 Pets (originally published in November 2011)
“After I die and that could happen tomorrow or 20 years from now. I want my animals cared for and kept together in the same house they grew up in. Is this possible?”
This question posed by a client of attorneys Hoyt & Brian, LLC in Oviedo, Florida, came from a pet owner. A single woman in her late 50s, she had no children (aside from five dogs and ten cats), and she owned her house.
As it turned out, the answer was “Yes”. Peggy Hoyt, a principal in the firm and a pet lover, began working closely with the client creating the necessary legal documents and drafting specific instructions for the as-yet-unnamed caregiver. Together, they assembled an animal care panel, consisting of the pet owner’s veterinarian and a few close friends. This panel would be responsible for interviewing and selecting the live-in caregiver once the need arose.
Responsible pet owners across the country are eager for information on how best to ensure quality care for their companion animals when they die or become disabled. So, 2nd Chance 4 Pets asked Peggy Hoyt to provide additional details on the special arrangement she crafted for her client.
Q: How is a live-in caregiver selected?
A: The animal care panel identifies candidates through; advertising in the newspaper, word of mouth, veterinarian recommendations, or other applicable means. The panel interviews candidates and selects a person to live in the home and care for the client’s pets. If the caregiver does not work out, the panel will remove that person and hire someone else.
Q: What safeguards are in place to ensure the quality of care?
A: The legal document requires periodic reporting. Additionally, the animal care panel has the right to inspect the home to ensure that the animals are properly cared for.
Q: Does the mortgage on the home have to be fully paid off for this plan to work?
A: The home does not need to be paid off, but there needs to be sufficient resources available when the pet owner dies to continue the mortgage installments or pay off the balance.
A few considerations to discuss with your attorney when making these arrangements:
(1) The pet owner should consider whether the live-in caregiver is paid (the value of rent is less than the value of the care services) or pays (the value of rent is greater than the value of the care services).
(2) Are expenses relating to the animal the responsibility of the caregiver?
Q: What else should people consider in setting up a plan like this?
A: In addition to the animal care panel, they may wish to separate the functions of animal care from asset care, by designating a trustee who is different from the people who oversee the care of the pets or actually care for the pets. Separating these functions helps avoid any potential conflict of interest.
Q: Does the trust maker need to leave money to cover the trustee’s costs as well?
A: Yes. If people don’t have independent resources, the best way for them to create that wealth is through the purchase of a life insurance policy that names the trust as the primary beneficiary.
Q: How often should the estate plan be reviewed?
A: Any estate plan, especially one that is designed to provide for pets, should be revisited on a regular basis (annually is a good idea). On average, people in this country update their estate plans every 19.6 years, but a person’s whole composition of pets will almost certainly change in that time period.
Q: How can people get more information on this method for ensuring lifetime care for companion animals?
A: Because laws differ from state to state, we recommend that pet owners discuss pet trusts and the processes involved in setting up an animal care panel with a locally licensed attorney. This is essential to ensure that the plan is legal in their state and that it includes necessary safeguards for trustees, beneficiaries, and caregivers.
Pet owners can locate an attorney in their area by visiting www.nnepa.com. Pet owners with designated caregivers and trustees may want to consider the comprehensive Pet Trust Program of legacylawcenters.com.
Q: What other safeguards do you recommend?
A: Another technique that we use in our planning is a concept known as trust protector. This is an independent third party (often the attorney who drafted the trust) who has special fiduciary power. For example, the trust protector may remove a bad trustee or change the withdrawal rates of beneficiaries. This person may also amend the trust after the trust maker has passed away, in case the law or certain circumstances change.
Q: Do you have a final recommendation for pet owners?
A: Keep your estate plan maintained and updated.
There are four things that can change with regard to your estate plan:
(1) Your life, including your personal and financial circumstances;
(2) The law
(3) Your lawyer’s experience
(4) Your legacy, in terms of how you want to leave your assets. By reviewing your estate plan frequently, you can be sure that your wishes will be carried out, and your companion animals will receive the quality of lifetime care that you want them to have.
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