You Are Dying Before Your Cat

Putting your cat in your last will and testament
Putting your cat in your last will and testament. Photo by Ken_Mayer
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

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.

The Fundamentals

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.

9 thoughts on “You Are Dying Before Your Cat”

  1. I hope there is something similar in your country Marc, it gives you peace of mind that your cats won’t be homeless or PTS.
    We are lucky to have an excellent CP branch in our town and Kays Hill not too far away too.
    I think you are wise not to leave too much money to be taxed on.
    A bit off topic but hard working people are badly treated here, take my sister, she has to work to 65 and 1/2 as the government have put the pension age up again, she will have paid in 50+ years of contributions to help keep the unemployed, many of them young people who have never worked! Some don’t want to work but many do, but jobs are being blocked longer by older people who have done their bit, like my sister, but can’t afford to retire until they are state pension age.
    I think if the RSPCA don’t want me to run them (as Michael suggested lol) I will try for ministeress of work and pensions, it needs sorting out!!!

  2. Every time I get on a plane the last thing I do is send my ex an sms reminding her that she must take care of my cats and demand money from my mother to look after them – enough to give them everything they need each year in payments. I tell her to just show my mum the sms. Thats because I haven’t actually made a will. I’m 36. Maybe I should. It’s the one single thing I care about really if I am going to die. It’s imperative that Molly and Gigi are always together no matter what happens. Me and my ex got Lilly together so Lilly would for sure stay with her and so would Molly and Gigi until something good was sorted. She already has 3 cats so she wouldn’t want 6 I guess. I have enough money to pay for the rest of their lives.

    I can’t believe the tax in England is accountable as much as 7 years prior. Thats a little bit disgusting. Anyhow, one should just not declare it and give the bloody money. I have taken out 5000 from the bank in cash before. No reason why I couldn’t just give a friend 5gs a couple times. I’d want too much money to go to my cats so they have most or all of it really. So if anything happened there was enough and so they could get the best food and care possible regardless of cost.

  3. In England you can sign up to Cats Protection Cat Guardians

    Which is what we intend to do if one of us is left alone and we still have cats. Like you Michael we don’t have family who would care for the cats and our friends are not young, or they are too far away. We don’t have much money so our plan is to ask for donations for Cats Protection in lieu of funeral flowers and meanwhile to help Cats Protection as much as we can, along with Kays Hill cattery too of course.
    The good thing about CP is fosterers usually look after older cats until they are found good homes, they don’t have to live in cages or pens.
    It’s so sad when a person dies leaving no provision for their pets and as we well know it can happen at any age.

  4. Michael,thanks for the excellent article.We humans are always afraid of dying and never like discussing or even thinking about it. Sadly, the pets suffer the most in case of an untimely death of the human owner and i personally feel that every pet owner should make some arrangements in their “WILL” for the maintenance of their pets in case of death, either due to normal ageing process or other factors.Statistics has shown that most pet owners are wealthy or would definitely have surplus money to provide for their pets since maintaining a pet is expensive in any Country or City.

  5. I’m pretty sure that i will die before my 2 young cats who are about 3 years old, that is why I was dubious about taking them on but it seemed better than having them kept in cages at the RSPA as they are semi wild.Luckily I have a cat loving family even my grandchildren so I must make provisions when I feel it necesary thats at the back of my mind often and they are hapy with me and I love having them here so I hope it will work out for them!!

    • Family is best. It is reassuring if you know someone in your family can step into your shoes. Arrangements can all be quite informal amongst family members. I will probably die before my cat because I will have a cat or cats for as long as I can. I don’t have family to turn to, unfortunately. I’ll just have to hope I meet someone who I can trust. Maybe one of the regular PoC visitors can step in but I hope this won’t happen for another 20 years but who knows.

      • When I eventually move to the countryside where conditions are perfect for my cats to even go outside I will have lots of space – you can send your cats to me if you want or need. Futhermore I’d write them into my will so if I die they will get taken care of according to your specifications. I’d gladly do that.


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