Estate Planning for Pets: Provide For Your Cat in Case Something Happens to You

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Nobody wants to think about becoming ill, incapacitated, or dying, but as responsible cat parents, we owe it to our cats to think ahead and make arrangements for their care in the event of death or any other emergency. Making arrangements before they’re needed means peace of mind not just for you, but for family and friends who may not know what to.

Choose a caregiver and discuss expectations

Find one or two responsible friends or relatives who will agree to take care of your cat if something unexpected happens to you. Your trusted cat sitter may also be an option, if she is willing to take on the responsibility. Ideally, these will be people who know your cat, and who your cat is familiar with. Provide them with keys to your home, make sure they know your cat’s basic routine when it comes to feeding and care, and that they have your veterinarian’s contact information.

Once you have chosen a caregiver for your cat, thoroughly discuss your expectations with that person. Do you expect them to give your cat a permanent home, or do you want them to care for your cat temporarily while they find a new home for her? Remember that this person will have complete control over your cat’s care, including making decisions about veterinary care, so make sure that you trust them to make the same or similar decisions to what you would choose. Always have an alternate caregiver, and stay in touch with both the primary and alternate caregiver periodically to ensure that the arrangements you made are still valid. Peoples’ lives change, and while someone may have been the ideal caregiver at one point, circumstances may prohibit them from being available if and when the time comes.

Consider a humane organization

If you can’t find an individual to help, you can consider a humane organization, but be aware that most organizations do not have the room or the funds to care for your cat indefinitely, and they certainly can’t guarantee that your pet will find a new home. There are a few organizations that specialize in caring for pets of deceased owners, but it’s probably never an ideal situation. Your cat was used to living in a home, with all the love and attention that comes with that, and ending up even with the best of these organizations will likely be extremely stressful for most cats.

Organizations that will care for pets of a deceased owner:

North Shore Animal League America’s Surviving Pet Care program will provide shelter and medical care for pets until they can be adopted into loving homes.

Bidawee’s Loving Legacy program is committed to making sure that your cat spends the rest of its life in a warm, loving environment.

The San Francisco SPCA’s Sido program takes cats into their adoption program, where they receive loving care and attention while they work to place them in the best possible home.

Legalize the arrangement

Once you have found one or two potential caregivers, legalize the arrangement. There are a number of options, including wills and trusts, and which is right for you will depend on your situation. Requirements will vary by state. Trusts are becoming more popular because they allow you more control over how your pet will be cared for. The goal is to end up with a legal document that provides for continued care for your cat either on a permanent basis or until a new home is found for him. The arrangements should include authorizing sufficient funds from your estate to care for your cat temporarily, as well as cover costs to look for a new home. Keep in mind that it can take weeks or even months to find an appropriate new home for cats, especially if they are older or have special needs, so be sure to allocate sufficient funds.

Even though there are online services available that provide low-cost help to set up standard legal documents, including pet trusts, your best bet is to consult with an attorney. “Any elder law or estate planning attorney can theoretically do a pet trust,” says Evan Farr, a Virginia attorney who specializes in estate planning and elder law, including pet trusts, “but the only way to find out if an attorney is truly experienced in this area is to check out the firm’s web site. If there is a page about pet trusts, then that’s a good indication that he or she is experienced in creating them.”

If you already have legal documents in place to care for your cat, remember to review them periodically to ensure that they will still meet yours and your cat’s needs.

Additional precautions to ensure continued care

There are a few additional precautions you can take to ensure continued care for your cats in the event that something happens to you:

  • Carry a wallet alert card with contact information for your emergency care givers.
  • Make sure that emergency care givers know how to contact each other.
  • Post emergency contact notices inside your front door. Include favorite hiding places for your cats on this notice – depending on your cat’s temperament, he may be scared when a stranger enters your house.

Even though nobody wants to think about the worst case scenario, once you’ve put these arrangements in place, you won’t have to worry about your cats ending up at a shelter, or worse, euthanized, because there were no other options.

Do you have a plan in place for your cats?

This article was previously published in the July 2013 issue of Cat Fancy magazine and is reprinted with permission.

9 Comments on Estate Planning for Pets: Provide For Your Cat in Case Something Happens to You

  1. Evan Guthrie
    January 25, 2014 at 8:37 am (5 years ago)

    Estate planning for pets is so important and an often neglected step in care. Thanks for providing this helpful information to cat owners.

    Reply
  2. Memory
    January 23, 2014 at 6:57 am (5 years ago)

    I carry my cat sitters card in my wallet with a note on to call her in case of emergency! I live in a State that does not allow trusts for animals, but my Sisters have agreed that they will take my cats into their homes. The note for my executer tell her to give a neighbor money from my estate to help pay for taking over feeding my ferals, which she has already agreed to do.

    As I am past 60, I will only foster when my own cats pass on, so there should be not problem – they will go back to the rescue I am fostering them for.

    Reply
  3. Suellen
    January 16, 2014 at 10:10 am (5 years ago)

    May I suggest Tabby’s Place in Ringoes, New Jersey as a sanctuary to consider when designating a caretaker for your cats in your absence. Yes, it does cost quite a bit for a cat however, if estate planning is done carefully and thoughtfully, your cats could not ask for more than to be re-homed at Tabby’s Place. I have taken out an insurance policy in the amount necessary for Tabby’s Place to take and care for two of my disabled adult cats and another policy in the name of my local shelter to take and hopefully re-home my remaining 8. I have personally been to Tabby’s Place and am a financial sponsor. It is definitely one of the best sanctuaries I have seen and the cats there are cared for in a very special loving way. The facility is ultra modern and the staff totally devoted. My personal contact is Angela Townsend and she always has time to answer my questions or give words of encouragement. Please take a look at their website, http://www.tabbysplace.org.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 16, 2014 at 11:41 am (5 years ago)

      Thanks for sharing the information on Tabby’s place, Suellen!

      Reply
  4. Veronica
    January 15, 2014 at 4:30 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you for a this article! So many pets are dumped at shelters when an owner gets sick or dies.
    Having a plan in place will save their lives.

    Reply
  5. HH and The Boys
    January 15, 2014 at 12:43 pm (5 years ago)

    Nice blog post. Thanks for all the info

    Have a super day.

    hugs, Knuckles and Bugsy

    Reply
  6. Sylvia Percy
    January 15, 2014 at 11:35 am (5 years ago)

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have a bookmark folder with various organizations that do perpetual care for pets, and I added the 3 that you listed to it. Your links for these sources did not work, but I found them in Google. A dear friend of mine found a place in Utah that she arranged for her one remaining dog, and she did die suddenly. It was a good thing she made arrangements for Max. It would have been more of a problem when she still had 5 dogs. Several universities have perpetual pet care in their veterinary departments, and I would be more interested in those. Most of these organizations are expensive, such as $10,000 for the first pet & $5000 for each subsequent pet. I saw one that was $25,000. I did see one that did not specify an amount, but with any of them, I would personally check them out before signing up.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 15, 2014 at 5:01 pm (5 years ago)

      My apologies for the broken links, they’re fixed now and should be working.

      Reply
  7. maru
    January 15, 2014 at 7:48 am (5 years ago)

    You are right, something to think adecide about.

    Reply

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