How Can I Prepare for My Cat's Well-Being if I Pass Away?


Pet ownership involves many responsibilities: shelter, health care, nutrition, exercise, and insuring they're taken care if you go away. But what about their care if you pass away for good, leaving them behind with, perhaps, many good years left for them?

There's been a rise in pet wills, as seen in the case of Leona Helmsley's pet trust. Of course, Helmsley left $12 million for her Maltese and most pet owners won't have $12 million to leave, but you can set up a reasonable will and/or a trust that will handle your pet's care after you're gone.

How to Prepare Now

It is wise to look into pet health insurance as early as possible so that future caregivers will have that back-up in case of serious illness or injury. Prices vary depending on the carrier, the type of coverage, the age of your pet and often the breed. Expect to pay approximately $25 to $50 per month.

Pet Insurance Carriers:

  • Trupanion Insurance - coverage includes hereditary conditions, diagnostic test surgeries and medications.
  • PurinaCare - coverage includes the option to visit any veterinary or specialist of choice, does not exclude hereditary conditions, and has choice of deductibles.
  • VPI Insurance - the largest carrier in the U.S. Coverage includes office visits, lab fees, accidents, surgeries and prescriptions.

Other Actions:

  • Alert card - carry a card in your wallet with your pets' information and numbers to call if something happens to you.
  • Neighbors - make sure at least one neighbor has a key to your house and knows how many pets you have.
  • Emergency notices - place emergency stickers on the front and back of your house for firefighters and police. They should indicate how many and what kind of pets you have.

Cost of Caring for Pets

Basic annual costs include recurring medical, food, toys and treats, grooming, license, and accessories such as collars, leashes, and crates.

Approximate Annual Cost for Pet Care per the ASPCA:

  • Dog - $1500
  • Cat - $1035
  • Rabbit - $1055
  • Guinea Pig - $705
  • Bird - $270
  • Fish - $235

Pets In Wills

Don't worry about your lawyer giving you a funny look when you say you want to provide for Fido - this is becoming more and more popular. You can even set up a pet living will online now. Keep in mind that it can take a couple of weeks for a will to be probated so setting up care with a temporary caregiver is essential.

Things to Consider in Will Planning:

  • Caregivers - designate at least two caregivers. The other option is a pet retirement home or sanctuary that specializes in long-term pet care.
  • Responsibilities - make it very clear what the caregiver's responsibilities will be. What if your pet is injured or critically ill? Do they have the right to determine when he's put to sleep? Describe your dog's routine. Does he walk a mile every day? Is it imperative that be continued? Also, list any allergies or health concerns and how you want them handled.
  • Temporary Care - talk to your boarding place and see if you can designate them to take your pet if there's a lag time. The other option is to have someone who has taken care of your pet, a pet sitter or neighbor or friend, who is designated as a temporary pet caregiver.

Pet Trusts

Unlike a will, a trust can be executed immediately after your death and can also apply if you just become ill or incapacitated. A trustee is specified to control the funds and, again, a chosen caregiver. Pet trusts can be purchased online.

Benefits of Setting-Up a Trust:

  • Assets - it can be written so that certain assets are excluded from the probate process and, thus, are readily available for your pet.
  • Disability - it can be structured to provide for your pet even in a lengthy disability.

Disadvantages of a Trust:

  • State recognition - not all states recognizes the validity of pet trusts. Check with your state to see if yours is one.
  • Time Frame - trusts can take months to set up

Other Options

To start saving for your pet's care after you pass away, consider setting up an Austerity Plan. This simply means finding less expensive ways to take care of your pet now. Use nonprofit shelters for spaying or neutering; vaccinate appropriately (not all vaccines are always needed - talk to your vet); fill prescriptions online (shop around for the best price); consult a vet by phone or online (for simple problems such as indigestion); groom at home. Making headway now and planning ahead can help insure that your pet will get long-term pet care even after you're gone.

Photo: Alamos Basement

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