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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!

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