Hey everybody, Mama JaneA here. I want to talk to you about something really important, and that’s making sure your cats are taken care of after you die.
I know death is kind of a macabre subject, and discussion of death is pretty much a taboo in some places. But it’s a reality we all have to face. You owe it to your loved ones to make sure they know your wishes about how you want your cats to be taken care of if you die before they do.
Why am I suddenly thinking about this? Honestly, it’s not all that sudden; it’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time. Between having episodes of severe depression and having a chronic illness–and not knowing whether I’m going to get hit by a bus tomorrow as I’m walking down the street–I know that not only do I owe it to my loved ones, I owe it to my beloved Paws and Effect Gang, too.
So, exactly how do you arrange for your cats’ care after your death?
First, let me start out by saying that I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t take any of this as legal advice. I’m just sharing what I’ve done to take care of my cats’ needs if I die before they do. Some of it I did in cooperation with an attorney who knows what the laws are in my state around wills, advance directives, powers of attorney, and so on. And, as you’ll see when I go into details, there was a lot of other discussion involved.
Step 1: Talk to your family and friends
The very first thing I did was to talk with people about whether they’d be able or willing to take care of my cats in the event of my death. My best friend and her wife readily agreed to be my backup cat caretakers. Because I presently have three cats and my best friend and her wife have two, I explicitly told them that if they can’t make it work blending my cats into their household, they should rehome the cats through a no-kill shelter that I really trust. I also made parallel arrangements for them–I’ll take on their cats if they should need to be rehomed in the event of their death.
Step 2: Prepare an information packet
Because your cat can’t tell her new caretakers what she eats and when she prefers to eat it, it’s important to write down that information. If your cat is on medication, mention that, too. Also be sure to write down their regular vet and that clinic’s contact information. If you have cats that are bonded, you’ll want to make sure your assigned caretaker knows that they need to be rehomed together.
If you have pet insurance, the policy can often be transferred to the new owner upon your death (the new owner might have to present a death certificate or some other official document to transfer ownership). An easier task might be to add your assigned caretaker to your policy as a secondary owner.
If you have a purebred cat, make sure you note who the breeder is; in the event that your friends and family can’t help you arrange for your cats’ care, legitimate breeders will always be willing to take their cats back and find them a good home. This is particularly important. I know of a situation happening right now where a woman found herself unable to take care of her Bengal cats due to dementia, and because of her dementia she couldn’t remember the breeder’s name. That information wasn’t written down, so now her friends and family are scrambling to rehome two very energetic Bengal cats.
Step 3: If possible, set aside money
It will be very helpful to your cat if you’re able to leave some money to help your cat’s new caretakers, whether those are people or a shelter. Caring for cats costs money, especially if medications and medical treatment are involved, and it’s just a courtesy. Some shelters have ways of setting up funds for your cats’ care after your death. There are other means of setting aside money ranging from savings accounts to disbursements from IRAs or 401(k)s. Even if you have envelopes full of cash in well-hidden parts of your home, that could be helpful–as long as you remember where those envelopes are!
Step 4: Write a will
The act of writing down who you want to get what is pretty simple, but I strongly recommend you work with an attorney familiar with the laws and regulations of your state around wills, powers of attorney, and other end-of-life preparation documents. Your attorney can help you arrange for your cats’ care by helping you to include that information in your will or add it as a memorandum attached to your will (this can work in some states).
Keep in mind that in the United States at least, pets are considered property, so in your will, they will be considered property, no matter how much you love them!
Step 5: Make sure all your documents are in a safe place
Put original notarized copies of your will and powers of attorney in a fireproof box, and make sure people you deeply trust know where that box is. You don’t want to lose all that information if your place burns down! Some places also have will repositories. The county where I live has a will repository, and you can put your will in that repository for $20. Some people will put their important documents in a safe deposit box, but safe deposit boxes can be a problem because there are very tight limitations on who can access them. If you do want to put your important papers in a safe deposit box, make sure you ask your bank about how people could access it after your death.
Talking about death can be really hard to do, but it’s really important. Your loved ones need to know about your wishes regarding your cats’ care, and people aren’t going to be thinking straight after you die. It’s important to have specific instructions so people can act on them without having to take on even more stress than they’re dealing with after you die.
Here are a couple more good resources for information about how to arrange for your cats’ care after your death:
- The Humane Society of the United States has its own list of guidelines, which you can find here.
- Best Friend Animal Society’s information on how to arrange for your cats’ care after your death is here.
- Get Second Chance for Pets’ tips and guides here.
Have you arranged for your cats’ care after your death? If so, what did you do? Have you had to deal with situations in which a person died without leaving instructions for their cats’ care? What happened with that? Please share your stories in the comments!