If you can tell that you are likely to die before your cat you’ll want her taken care of when you’re gone. Often, the problem is the other way around – cats normally die before us. Sorry if this is a bit morbid but it is relevant to a lot of people. Many excellent cat owners are old, single, people.
Please note: (1) Not all cat owners care about what happens to their cat on their death (2) I was a divorce solicitor so have little first hand practical experience of probate! Although, I do know it fairly well.
So, what do you do? There are a number of options. Each person will have their own preferences, which depend on how important their cat is to them. UK and USA probate law is similar.
Ideally, you’ll need to know someone who you can trust completely to look after your cat, after you’re gone. It should be for the rest of your cat’s life, naturally. The alternatives are (a) a cat shelter, which is a less attractive option and worse still (b) euthanasia. Some people want their cat to be euthanised on their death. I think this is very wrong.
Giving Your Cat To Someone Else
One option is to ignore the idea that you can make provision for your cat in your Will (see below) and decide that it is better if a person takes over responsibility for your cat before you die. This is a very practical response and it depends on the circumstances; the cat’s owner, the cat and, most importantly, the recipient (the cat’s new owner).
I am thinking of those situations when a person has difficulty coping in looking after herself never mind her cat. Hard though it might be, it is probably better to re-home the cat. However, common sense dictates that the new owner should be a close friend who loves animals and cats. There should be a reasonably generous money gift as well for expenditure. The whole thing is based on trust as no one is around to enforce the deal.
Gifts made before death can be subject to Inheritance Tax (IT) in the UK, if made within 7 years of death, provided the estate (the entire wealth of the deceased) is £325,000 or more in the 2012-13 tax year. However, a monetary gift to maintain a cat of £3,000, in one year, is exempt from IT in the UK (i.e there is no tax on this money). If the cat is middle-aged or older, £3,000 would almost certainly be adequate under normal circumstances to take care of a cat for about 5 years. Over the lifetime of a cat the cost of decent care might be in the order of £10,000 but it can be cheaper and still be good care. So, if the cat is young, £3,000 is possibly, insufficient. However, you can make one gift in consecutive years before death of £3,000 and both will be free of tax.
To summarise: if a person gives her cat to a good, cat loving friend, together with £3,000 the gift is tax free no matter the value of the estate. A lot of the time these technical things won’t come into the discussion.
Making A Will That Requests That Someone Looks After Your Cat
Leaving the process of looking after your cat after you are gone to what you say in your Will is another way forward. A person cannot leave money to a cat so the legacy will be to a person who the cat owner trusts. In an ideal world the person specified in the Will to look after the cat should or could also be the executrix (woman) or executor (man) of the Will. The executor runs the deceased’s estate and distributes the money. The estate is her property on the death of the testator but she cannot distribute funds until probate is granted.
It would be very convenient if the executrix is also the beneficiary of the cat (a cat is a chattel under the law) and the person who receives a money legacy for cat care expenses. This arrangement creates a seamless transition for your cat from your death to her new caretaker.
Clearly, it is best to obtain the person’s agreement early on and well before the Will is drafted. If this is not possible, an alternative is to nominate someone for a legacy of say £5,000 on condition she looks after your cat. Another person could be named in case the first named rejects the offer.
An alternative is a gift to a cat rescue organisation on the proviso that the charity cares for and re-homes your cat. This would be require communicating with the charity beforehand to make sure they will agree such an arrangement.
If you have a cat that you love and you are almost certain to die before your cat try and make sure that you can find a person who (a) likes animals (b) loves cats (c) has the ability and time to care for your cat (d) is willing to be the executor of your Will and (e) is young and (f) agrees to care for your cat for the remainder of her life. These are common sense ideals, which also dictates that you want to avoid your cat being placed in a cat shelter where anything can happen.