Estate planning is not a pleasant topic or something that most of us want to think about, but it is an important part of life (and death). Planning for your cat’s future beyond your death is one of the most loving and humane things you can do as a responsible cat owner. Your cat is a part of your family and, under the law, is considered to be part of your personal property. Therefore, his or her fate must be spelled out in your will. Without your wishes legally spelled out, your cat could end up in a shelter or on the street (or worse) when you die.
Here are some points to consider when contemplating the fate of your furry feline friend after your demise:
- You can’t leave money to your cat in your will. This is a legal no-no in every state. You can, however, choose a person whom you trust to take care of your cat after your death (clear it with him or her first, of course), specify that caregiver in your will, and leave money in your will to that caregiver, earmarked to care for your cat. The person would only receive the money if he or she agrees to take on the responsibility of caring for your cat.
- You can, however, set up a trust for your cat. In all 50 states, it is legal for you to establish a trust, with an appointed trustee, to take care of your cat after your death. Remember, though, that the trustee is only legally obligated to pay for your cat’s care from the trust—it does not require the trustee to care for the cat himself. The trust must name an appointed caregiver (usually different from the trustee) and must also specify what happens to any money left over should your cat die before it runs out. Additionally, if you find yourself unable to care for your cat before your death (if you were incapacitated by a disease, for example), the trust can also specify that the named caregiver would immediately have the authority to take legal custody and care of your cat. This can be a welcome idea especially for cat owners approaching old age or those with a history of hereditary disease in the family.
- You can arrange for a charitable organization to care for your cat after your death. If there’s no one you can trust to appoint as your cat’s caregiver after your death, and you can’t establish a trust, this might be your best choice. Some local animal organizations have programs that will offer to find your cat a good home upon your death. You will probably have to sign an agreement and leave money for your cat’s care, but you will be assured that this organization will find your cat a good home after you pass on.
- Make sure to set aside enough money to care for your cat after your death. The amount of money necessary to care for your cat upon your death will vary depending upon where you live and the arrangements you have made. If you have chosen a person to take care of your cat but have not established a trust, estimate how much you spend each year on your cat, including food, vet bills, and litter, and multiply that by your cat’s estimated life expectancy. If you want to set up a trust, you should include the above in your estimate plus money for grooming, boarding, walking and any other services your cat may need in the future.
- Estimate how much you can afford to spend now. If money is not an object when considering the fate of your cat after your death, setting up a trust is the best way to go. However, this can quickly become expensive as attorney fees and trustee compensation piles up. If you just don’t have that kind of cash, find someone you can completely trust to agree to be your cat’s caregiver after your death and have that written into your will, along with the amount of money he or she will receive from the executor of your will to care for your cat.
- Leave information for your cat’s next caregiver. No matter how you choose to provide for your cat after you die, make sure to leave important information to pass on to her next caregiver. You should include things like her favorite foods, foods that make her sick, favorite toys, groomers and pet sitters that you (and she) love, your veterinarian’s name and contact information, and any little idiosyncrasies your cat may have. Many pet owners keep this information in an easily accessible place, like on the refrigerator, or simply note in the will where the information can be found after their death. Hopefully, having this information in hand will make your cat’s transition to a new caregiver’s home a bit easier for her after you’re gone.
Whatever you decide to do to guarantee a safe, secure future for your cat after your death, make sure to do it legally. More information on legally establishing a pet trust can be found at the ASPCA’s website. If you wish to establish a caregiver and set aside money to leave for your feline companion’s care in your will, speak to a lawyer that specializes in drawing up wills. Using forethought now in planning for Fluffy’s future will prevent any horrible outcomes for her after your death.