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Animal Law

Helmsley’s Estimated $8B Fortune Helps Get Top Billing for Animal Rights

Posted Sep 22, 2008 4:43 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Think of how much trouble the difference between the sexes has caused. And then ponder this: if a fledgling movement to recognize limited rights for animals gains its wings, a whole new series of complex distinctions will have to be made.

“We’re talking about beings as different as chimpanzees, pigs, chickens, fish, oysters, and others, and you must recognize those differences," said pro-animal-rights scholar Peter Singer, a Princeton University professor, at a recent conference in New York.

However, there is an increasing trend toward applying some of the rights that traditionally have been accorded to children to at least some animals in the United States, reports the upcoming issue of the New Yorker. And at the epicenter of the legal arena on this topic are trust funds for pets.

An eye-popping inheritance from hotel heiress Leona Helmsley to her pet Maltese dog, who happens to be named Trouble, is a sign of the times in an era that has brought significant changes in the way pets are treated legally concerning inheritances, the magazine reports in a lengthy article. The rich bitch (a standard, nonpejorative term for a female dog) apparently did better than any other individual named in Helmsley's estate plan, receiving a $12 million trust (a judge reduced it to $2 million) while some grandchildren initially got nothing, as discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post.

"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," the New Yorker writes. "A network of lawyers and animal activists has orchestrated these changes, largely without opposition, in order to whittle down the legal distinctions between human beings and animals. They are already making plans for the Helmsleys’ billions."

Most of Helmsley's weath, which could add up to $8 billion or so, is expected to fund a charitable foundation with a primary goal of promoting the welfare of dogs.

Hat tip: "Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

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