Plan­ning For Your Cat’s Fu­ture…With­out You

Why you need to make pro­vi­sions for your cat in your will

Modern Cat - - Contents - BY KELLY CALD­WELL

Why you need to make pro­vi­sions for your cat in your will.

M y aunt Kate was a life­long cat lover. I couldn’t tell you how many cat-themed items she owned— jewelry, scarves, clothes, cups… you name it. She loved her cats deeply, in­clud­ing her last two charges, Felix and Eevee. But, can­cer came call­ing when Kate was in her late 50s. She fought the dis­ease valiantly for a few years, and we all thought she had more time. Late in the fall of 2017, how­ever, Kate had a small stroke, and ev­ery­thing changed. While she was re­cov­er­ing, I vis­ited Kate in the hos­pi­tal. We had a long, can­did, and very emo­tional talk about our lives and about her health, which was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing rapidly. Her plan was to head up north with her daugh­ter, where she would end her days peace­fully in a hos­pice. But Kate hadn’t yet planned for her cats and she couldn’t take them. It was a source of great dis­tress. I promised her I would find them good homes. Kate was my god­mother. She was 13 years older than me; as a child and teen, I sim­ply idol­ized her. She taught me many things, in­clud­ing the im­por­tance of search­ing for the sparkle in ev­ery as­pect of life. I wouldn’t stop, I as­sured her, un­til they were in good hands.

I ven­tured onto so­cial me­dia, post­ing about my aunt’s sit­u­a­tion and the need to re-home her two cats. The out­pour­ing of kind­ness was over­whelm­ing. My posts were shared hun­dreds of times and I got some leads.

But Kate never did make it up north. She never even had a chance to say good­bye to her cats. A week af­ter I made her that prom­ise, she was in a lo­cal pal­lia­tive care unit. I was at her bed­side, hold­ing her hand, and pray­ing to any God that would lis­ten to please end her suf­fer­ing. She passed away last Novem­ber at the age of 61. I met with a woman who wanted one cat, but under the cir­cum­stances was will­ing to take them both. But, on the morn­ing af­ter my aunt passed, I got the call… she had re­con­sid­ered. I knew it was for the best; the last thing I wanted was to send them away only to be re­turned. I thanked her for be­ing so hon­est and for let­ting me know. Then, I hung up the phone and wept.

I had failed. Time was run­ning out. Yes, the cats were be­ing fed and the lit­ter box cleaned out, but they were alone and needed homes.

But Kate never did make it up north. She never even had a chance to say good­bye to her cats. A week af­ter I made her that prom­ise, she was in a lo­cal pal­lia­tive care unit. I was at her bed­side, hold­ing her hand, and pray­ing to any God that would lis­ten to please end her suf­fer­ing.

In this case, all’s well that ends well—but more on that in a bit. First, I’d like to help oth­ers avoid this; my ex­pe­ri­ence showed me how real the need is for all of us to en­sure that our cats are cared for—and not just in the here and now.

Here are some steps cat-lovers can take to avoid this sce­nario.

First of all, think of a care­giver you trust to be­come your cat’s new guardian. If you have mul­ti­ple cats, ask your­self how closely bonded they are. Could they thrive if sep­a­rated? Talk to the peo­ple you have in mind and ask them if they would be will­ing to open their home to your cat in the event of your death.

Next, put pen to pa­per. A will is a valu­able thing to have in place, pet guardian or not. Mak­ing your wishes clear in a will goes a long way to help your griev­ing fam­ily and friends should the worst hap­pen. Your wishes for a care­giver should be clearly stated. With­out nam­ing one in your will, your cat’s fu­ture could be un­cer­tain.

Matthew Ur­back, a Wills and Es­tates Lawyer in Toronto, notes that, “tra­di­tional Cana­dian law rec­og­nizes that pets are the equiv­a­lent of prop­erty. It is com­mon for wills to have a resid­uary clause cov­er­ing ‘ev­ery­thing else’ that isn’t ex­plic­itly ref­er­enced in the will. So, if a pet is not named specif­i­cally in the will, it is likely that who­ever re­ceives the resid­uary will be the re­cip­i­ent of your pet.”

It’s the same in the United States, says Colleen Healy, an at­tor­ney in the Chicagoland area whose prac­tice in­cludes Trust and Estate Plan­ning. “A pet could be con­sid­ered part of its owner’s per­sonal prop­erty if there is a spe­cific be­quest of the pet to an in­di­vid­ual, or in the event there is no men­tion of the pet, it would be con­sid­ered part of the residue of the trust.”

It’s nat­u­ral to want to avoid what must seem like a very mor­bid con­ver­sa­tion, but the al­ter­na­tive is to leave things to chance.

“It’s al­ways a good idea to speak about your Estate wishes be­fore it’s too late,” says Ur­back, “and pet care is no ex­cep­tion.” Cer­tainly, the read­ing of your will is not an ideal time for a fu­ture care­giver to learn about their new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a cat guardian. Now… about those vet bills. Have you ever heard of a Pet Trust? It might sound like some­thing only the rich would es­tab­lish, but even those of us with mod­est es­tates should con­sider set­ting up a pet trust as part of our wills.

“I think it makes sense to plan for on­go­ing care,” says

Ur­back. “While not legally re­quired, it seems only fair given the re­spon­si­bil­ity you’ve thrust upon a care­giver.”

“For a pet trust to be ef­fec­tive,” says Healy, “it has to be funded.” Just how much to set aside?

“So many things need to be con­sid­ered,” says Healy. “Does the pet have health is­sues? Are meds part of its rou­tine? What about stan­dards of liv­ing, such as groom­ing—once a month, or once a year?” Think­ing through your rou­tine bills and then adding a buffer for emer­gency care would be a good place to start.

Even be­yond this, some set aside funds to com­pen­sate the care­giver—a means of thank­ing them for the time and ef­fort that goes into a life­time of pet care. That could be ad­dressed in a will or trust.

“I’ve done al­lo­ca­tions of x-amount of money to the per­son who would take the pets,” says Healy, “and of­ten it’s a pref­er­ence list of a few care­givers who would be asked. Typ­i­cally, the peo­ple on that list are not aware there is a fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit un­til af­ter they’ve ac­cepted the re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

If you have strong feel­ings about how you want your cat cared for in the event of your death, con­sult a le­gal ex­pert in your prov­ince or state and cre­ate or al­ter your will or estate so that your wishes are clear. Through plan­ning, we can en­sure that our cats won’t be lost in the shuf­fle and their care ex­penses are cov­ered, should the worst come to pass, and we have to leave them.

As for my aunt’s cats, time was up—I needed a so­lu­tion. The cats weren’t closely bonded, and I sus­pected my aunt’s son might agree to take Felix. When I asked him, he didn’t hes­i­tate to say yes. For my part, I was start­ing to bond with Eevee. I couldn’t stop star­ing at the pho­tos I had taken of her. There was some­thing plead­ing and al­most des­per­ate in her gaze. She was con­stantly on my mind and so was the prom­ise I had made to Kate.

You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing why I hadn’t stepped up to the plate al­ready. Though my part­ner is a cat-man, I have ex­treme cat al­ler­gies—think hives, goopy eyes, cough­ing and wheez­ing, itch­i­ness. That aside, we live in a tiny house along with two dogs and a very ac­tive tod­dler. For all of these rea­sons, I know I would have been the last per­son Kate would have cho­sen as a care­giver.

But, in the hall of the church fol­low­ing my aunt’s ser­vice, I pulled up a photo of Eevee on my iPhone and said to my part­ner, “You know… we could take her.”

He was aghast. “No way! You know I love the idea. But you’re go­ing to tor­ture your­self.”

He was right, and I knew it. But I re­minded him of my prom­ise and told him some­thing in my bones told me that I needed to bring her home. And so we did.

It has been an ad­just­ment. I take a lot of medicine, but I’ll be okay—and so will Eevee. She im­me­di­ately changed the en­ergy of our home. Watch­ing her set­tle in and start to ex­press her sweet, quirky per­son­al­ity has been a joy. She’s part of the fam­ily and al­ways will be. Like my aunt, Eevee is a beauty and doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. And let me tell you… this cat sparkles.

It’s a happy end­ing, but under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, a cat in Eevee’s sit­u­a­tion could have eas­ily ended up lan­guish­ing in a shel­ter or, worse yet, fac­ing eu­thana­sia if that shel­ter was over­crowded. The moral of the story is this: Love your cats and cher­ish them to­day, but don’t for­get to plan for their to­mor­row. Life, by na­ture, is un­cer­tain. Your cats’ fu­tures don’t need to be.

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