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Bequest besmirched: Leona and dogs snubbed

I don’t begin to understand the intricacies of estate law, or the intricacies of Leona Helmsley — but I do believe this: A person, even if they are certifiably insane, deserves to have their last request honored.

With the distribution of the first $136 million from Helmsley’s multibillion-dollar estate, its trustees have shown — like judges before them — they don’t give a squat about Helmsley’s wishes, or the nation’s dogs.

The bulk of the money went to medical centers; only $1 million of the estate was donated to the care of dogs, which Helmsley had designated as primary beneficiary of her $5 billion.

“This is a trifling and embarrassingly small amount,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. “Mrs. Helmsley’s wishes are clearly being subverted.”

Pacelle added, “We are extremely disappointed that less than 1 percent of the allocation announced is going to animal-related organizations, and only one-tenth of 1 percent is going to animal welfare organizations … We are in touch with the interested parties and are hoping to have a satisfactory resolution — a much larger percentage than 1 percent.”

After Helmsley’s 2007 death, it was revealed that she had drafted a statement four years earlier listing poor people and dogs as the causes to which she wanted her money donated. She crossed out the poor a year later. In February, though, a Manhattan judge ruled that the trustees had sole discretion in disbursing her assets and that the entire estate did not have to go to the dogs.

Helmsley also left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble, but a judge reduced Trouble’s trust fund to $2 million in negotiating a $6 million settlement with two of Mrs. Helmsley’s grandchildren who were left out of her will.

Tuesday’s grants went to a digestive diseases center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center ($40 million) and Mount Sinai Medical Center ($35 million). The Mount Sinai money is to be used to create a center to study the electrical properties of cells and tissues and to establish a Helmsley Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, according to the New York Times. The $1 million for animal welfare was divided among 10 charities, including the ASPCA and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

I’m not sure even the honor of having a “bowel disease center” named after her would make up for the total disregard for her wishes. The trustees have shown that they are not to be trusted — at least when it comes to doling out the dough in a manner that comes anywhere close to what she wanted.

It shouldn’t be up to relatives, judges or anyone else to reinterpret the instructions one leaves upon one’s death — even if the deceased is mentally incompetent, as some might argue leaving $5 billion to dogs indicates. I’m not one of them. Who’s to say probing the mysteries of human bowels is more important than animal welfare? The trustees, apparently, in a decision that shouldn’t even be their’s to make in the first place.  A person’s last wishes — if they’re not harming anyone — should be carried out, doggone it, even if they are stark raving mad.

Comments

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time April 23, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Thank you, JW. I already ranted on this when I first read it a couple days ago, immediately, as if struck by lightning bolt. How in the blazes can something like this happen? The entire reason to MAKE a will in the first place is to ensure that whatever dollars exist after one’s death are distributed with love and strictly per the person’s wishes. This little event has turned me into an activist. I hope that we have not heard the last of the damages to Leona’s last wishes and her pet-loving legacy. Thanks for the story.

Comment from simple jack
Time April 27, 2009 at 10:28 am

Oh me Oh my!! I’ll bet that brother Wayne was really looking forward to getting his “paws” on that big wad of cash that “Trouble” thought he was going to inherit, however the only thing that “Trouble” might get out of this whole affair is the possibility of dieing of old age, that is assuming some family member takes him. Otherwise his chances for a dirt nap are real good under the care that brother Wayne provides.

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