If I Die Before My Cats, How Can I Ensure They’ll Be OK?

Hello wise and wonderful ones!

I have been contemplating my question ever since reading Gwen Cooper’s wonderful book, Love Saves the Day. In it, Prudence loses her human and has to come to terms with it.

Now, I’m hoping nothing happens to my Husbunny and me, but there is always chance. We have been in the process of writing our will and I brought up the question of what we should do for our four wonderful and very bonded cats. We started looking for guardians among our families, but in every case it was “we would love to help, but we couldn’t do it” for various reasons. My parents have said that they would foster our four until new homes could be found, but because the cats are bonded (they are two sets of twins) finding a home for all four of them would be tricky. The Husbunny and I decided that our
house would be sold and the proceeds be given to whomever stepped up, specifically for the care of our four. Sadly, there still isn’t anyone willing to care for our babies should we go to the Rainbow Bridge first.

What would you advise? What could we do to ensure our cats are able to stay together?

~ Kae, Mike, Willow, Xander, Millie Sue and Mimi Belle

Cat on gravestone. Photo (CC-BY) Baby's In Black. Find her on Flickr

Photo CC-BY Baby’s In Black

Siouxsie: Well, folks (and kitties), you’ve brought up a very important question. And as you know, so many humans seem ridiculously reluctant to talk about death or make plans about what should happen in the event they die and leave dependents … including cats!

Thomas: The good news is that there are options to get your cats taken care of in the event of your passing.

Bella: The first of these is establishing a pet trust. A while back, law student Cassady Toles wrote a good and easily understandable article on the subject for Catster. Basically, establishing a trust involves leaving a sum of money (or maybe a piece of property that can be sold for money) specifically allotted to the care of your cats.

Siouxsie: The thing about having a pet trust is that the trustee doesn’t necessarily have to physically care for the cats, but he or she is mandated by the trust to ensure that your cats have a safe place to land in the event of your death.

Thomas: Pet trusts are legal in 46 U.S. states, but we have no idea what the laws are like in other countries.

Bella: Another option is called planned giving. I hope Mama plans to give me some food soon; I’m hungry!

Siouxsie: You know that’s not what planned giving means, you foolish kitten! Planned giving is the act of naming a nonprofit organization to be the recipient of some or all of your assets after your death.

Thomas: A lot of people think planned giving is only for rich people, but it’s not. You don’t have to have millions — all you need is some unencumbered (debt-free) assets to donate to the nonprofit of your choice.

Bella: A lot of animal shelters are willing to accept bequests (that’s a fancy term for a gift that’s going to come their way after the donor dies) and may also be willing to accept your bequest on the condition that the organization care for and find appropriate homes for your cats.

Siouxsie: Other assets like retirement funds and life insurance policies may also be usable for pet care expenses or pet trusts.

Thomas: Now, we’re not lawyers or estate planners or financial advisors any more than we’re veterinarians, so you really should talk with someone who can give you professional help in this area.

Bella: And don’t worry about them laughing — a lot of professional advisors help with estate planning that includes pets!

Siouxsie: We’d recommend looking into no-kill animal shelters to see if there is one that you would like to entrust with your cats’ care in the event of your death.

Thomas: Take a tour of various shelters and see if you get a good impression. You might even want to talk to the shelters from which you adopted your cats, because many of those organizations will take back cats they adopted in the event of the owner’s death or permanent disability.

Bella: Talk with someone at that shelter who can give you some idea about what would be involved in establishing a trust for the care of your cats at their organization.

Siouxsie: In a shelter with a reasonably sized staff, that person may be referred to as a development officer. If the shelter has a small staff, see if you can make an appointment to talk to the director about options available for arranging for your cats’ care in the event of your passing.

Thomas: The North Shore Animal League has some good information about planned giving. It is, naturally, biased toward giving to the NSAL, but it can give you a good place to start!

Bella: Mama worked for a community foundation for a number of years and knows a lot about the language of planned giving, but don’t feel overwhelmed if this is all Greek to you. That’s what professional advisors (and friends who have legal or financial planning experience) are for! We’d definitely recommend going with a professional advisor if you want to set up a trust. It’s worth the cost!

Siouxsie: Mama has arranged for our care if she happens to die before we do. She’s fortunate to have a trusted friend who she knows will do the right thing, and she’s written provisions for our care into her will.

Thomas: Now that’s why we love our Mama! She’s always thinking ahead.

Bella: So, Kae, Mike, Willow, Xander, Millie Sue and Mimi Belle, I hope this at least gives you a place to start. And thank you so, so much for caring so much about your furry family members!

  • Dee

    Good advice! I have retirement funds and insurance that wilt be split 50/50 between my best friend (the kitties Auntie) and my husband to make certain the cats are cared for. Should hubby and I go to the Rainbow Bridge together, all would go to my best friend. I am currently making additional arrangements as a backup plan. The amount I am leaving would be enough to pay off the house and property so the sanctuary could be maintained and for the care of the kitties. The ideal backup plan is planned giving to a local rescue organization that could use my property and cat sanctuary to continue to care for rescued cats, as long as my babies were cared for as well.

  • http://eastsidecats.blogspot.com/ Eastside Cats

    I worry most about if something happens to me and/or hubby that prevents us from feeding and taking care of our cats while we are still alive. Say an accident, or some sort of quarantine situation. I used to have some neighbors that would jump in to help in a heartbeat, but they moved away recently and all of my family members are at least 30 minutes away. Even the rescue groups I work with are a long ways away! I would like to find someone whom I can entrust the key to my house, just in case that person needs to step in with daily cat routines. I would feel much better if I KNEW there was someone who could jump in but it’s been a difficult process so far. Plus, I cannot afford to pay someone to stay on retainer, so to speak, in case of this emergency. Maybe I’ll talk to my veterinarian for advice, since she’s certainly concerned about my cat’s health and well-being. Any other advice would be helpful…thanks! Good topic!

  • Jackie Williams

    Great article!! I have had a passing thought about what would happen to my 9 cats should I die but have never made provisions. I don’t have children so leaving some money to a shelter is something I never thought about but will seriously consider. This was a wake up call and I am really going to start to take action today! Thanks!

  • Catherine Murdoch

    One of the stipulations in my will is that in the event of me predeceasing my cats is that they are NOT to be put down but good homes are to be found for them. Perhaps that is another option for you.

  • Gail

    Thanks for this article. It has been something I have wondered about. It is actually written into a will, I made many years ago, but have to wonder. My will gives my place to a particular person as long as they take on the cats also. This person knows this, but they are not into cats like I am. In all honesty I hadnt thought this through enough…how would I know this person would do what was stipulated in the will. Your article is great and has given me a lot to think about – oh I dont intend kicking the bucket shortly – well I hope not, I am about to go into hospital for a hip replacement, but feel sure I will be okay… but, never, say never.
    The book mentioned in the article, looks fantastic, so I have just bought it….hope it isnt too much of a tear jerker.
    Anyway, thanks for your answers you beauitiful, esteemed kitties – you have certainly given me a lot to think about.

  • AnitaB

    I think about this quite a bit because I work with a rescue group and many of them have a lot of foster cats and dogs as well. My daughter has cats, turtles and guinea pigs and I have 5 cats myself and two I take care of outside. I often wonder what my daughter and I would do if something happened to either of us. We both rent, but I have the funds to buy a small home. However, most of her cats love to be outside so that could post a problem. A few of my cats were taken from the colony I help take care of because of physical problems. No one would want to cater to them as I do. I hate to think but I imagine those three would have to be euthanized. I love them dearly but when they started to go downhill without the proper meds they would begin to suffer. Two would either go to my daughter (who really has enough) or to the TNR colony or foster people with the group. The two outside could go to the colony. I have an elderly friend with 7 cats who shudders at what would happen to them if she should become ill or die. Another friend has 20 cats and although she is still young anything can happen. I can’t really help any of them. It ‘s scary.

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