Monday, September 29, 2008

Love goes to the Dogs

Jeffrey Toobin has a greet article in the Atlantic about the late Leona Helmsley and the inter vivos trust that she executed leaving millions to her dog Trouble.

For estate planners the salient part Pet-lovers have engineered a quiet revolution in the law to allow nonhumans to inherit and spend money. It is becoming routine for dogs to receive cash and real estate in the form of trusts, and there is already at least one major foundation devoted to helping dogs. And they are already making plans for the Helmsleys' billings, according to Toobin.

The author asks "Is it right to give so much money to a dog - or to dogs generally? Are there limits? Will there be a time when a dog can sue for a new guardian, or to avoid being put to sleep?

Leona had contentious relationships with almost everybody except her husband Harry. Her life was a trail of bitterness, strained relationship, fired employees, etc.

Unhappy associates turned her into the IRS knowing that she had billed millions of dollars to her hotel chain company for what amounted to grand-scale renovation of her Greenwhich Connecticut mansion. She was convicted of multiple counts of tax evasion and served federal prison time.

After her release from prison, she became reclusive and when her husband died in 1997she got her Maltese dog. She never had a dog before an article source is quoted as saying and she trieated her like aperson, and took her everywhere. She would take that dog to bed with her every night." He even appeared in ads for her hotels.

In spite of her vast wealth Leona left small, controlling bequests to her realtives; Trouble's 12 million is the largest single bequest in the will. In her 2nd mission statement, she removed caring for indigents and children making her priority for her chartible trust #1 care of dogs, and then charities as determined by trustees.

Helmsley's instructions for care of the dog subsequently caused a lot of trouble for Trouble. First Helmsley wanted Trouble buried in the family mausoleum, but that is not possible under NY law. Then custody was to be given to her brother or grandson, but neither man wanted the dog. After the trust provisions were made public, the dog received death threats.

Later, an alternative custodian was found. He is paid 5000 a month, security for the dog costs a hundred thousand, grooming-eight thousand, food-twelve hundred, and the vet up to eight thousand.

Update h/t Wills Trusts and Estates Prof Blog

Manhattan Surrogate Judge Renee Roth reduced amount in the pet trust in April to $2 million with the $10 million balance passing to Leona's charitable foundation.

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