Well, a judge saw fit to ignore a dead woman’s wishes and cut a bequest from $12 million to $2 million and now there looks like there’s going to be legal shenanigans over a multi-billion dollar trust.

Last year when Leona Helmsley died, she left a $12 million dollar trust fund to take care of her beloved pooch, Trouble. Last month, Manhattan Surrogate Judge Renee Roth reduced that trust by $10 million, leaving $2 million in trust for the care of Trouble. Now, I’m not saying that any dog needs $12 million dollars, what right does anyone have to ignore the will and last wishes of someone?? Like it or not, like her or not, it was her money to do with as she chose.

The judge also chose to give millions to two disinherited grandchildren that she specifically noted were to receive no inheritance.

And now it looks like she left, in a mission statement, a trust totaling somewhere between $5 and $8 billion, that’s right, billion dollars, “be used for the care and welfare of dogs.”

It seems in 2003 she signed a mission statement for her charity trust regarding the disbursement of fund. She originally intended for her trust to be distributed to benefit indigent people and the welfare of dogs, then in 2004 she changed it to just the dogs. The problems comes up because there also seems to be another provision that allows the trustees to distribute the money using their own discretion.

The “mission statement” is not part of her will, but the law favors remaining faithful to the donor’s intent. That means the trustees of the fortune may have difficulty ignoring her wishes, though it has happened in the past.

When she died last year at 87, she left all but a few million dollars of her vast estate to what will become one of the nation’s dozen largest foundations when the probate process is finished. She had $2.3 billion in liquid assets when she died, according to the probate petition, and the disposal of her real estate holdings is expected to produce an additional $3 billion to $6 billion.

Even if the resulting total is at the low end of the estimate — $5 billion or so — the trust will be worth almost 10 times the combined assets of all 7,381 animal-related nonprofit groups reporting to the Internal Revenue Service in 2005.

The five executors of her will — Mrs. Helmsley’s brother, Alvin Rosenthal; two of her grandsons, Walter and David Panzirer; her lawyer, Sandor Frankel; and her longtime friend John Codey — have been preoccupied with disposing of the real estate.

They are also the trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and, according to the two people who discussed the mission statement, have fretted about the public outcry that disclosure of its terms might incite.

They have reason for concern: News last year that the biggest named beneficiary in Mrs. Helmsley’s will was Trouble, her Maltese, led to death threats against the dog, which now requires security costing $100,000 a year. But they also cannot sit on the liquid assets much longer without raising questions from the attorney general’s office, which oversees the use of charitable assets in New York State.

The trustees recently hired a philanthropic advisory service to help them figure out a way to remain true to Mrs. Helmsley’s intentions while at the same time pursuing broader charitable goals with her foundation.

Judge Renee R. Roth of Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan will also play a role. She has already demonstrated a willingness to be flexible, cutting the size of Trouble’s trust fund to $2 million, from the $12 million prescribed in Mrs. Helmsley’s will, and ordering that the difference be added to the pending charitable trust.

Judge Roth also agreed to a settlement between the trustees and two of Mrs. Helmsley’s grandchildren who were explicitly left out of her will. The agreement gave those grandchildren $6 million each.

There are many ways the trustees could spend the Helmsley money on dogs. National groups like the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have programs dedicated to dogs, and many smaller local groups rescue abandoned and abused dogs.

Or the trustees could use the trust’s money to finance veterinary schools or research on canine diseases. (NY Times)

So, I guess charitable organizations and dog lovers, along with the curious and leeches, will be keeping an eye out to see what’s going to happen to the billions Helmsley specifically requested “be used for the care and welfare of dogs.”

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