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Leona Helmsley Left $5-$8 Billion in Trust for Stray Dogs, Other US Canines

Posted Jul 1, 2008 6:32 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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If it holds up in court, hotel magnate Leona Helmsley has left in trust a staggering sum to help care for the nation's dogs after her death—somewhere between $5 and $8 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," reports the New York Times.

However legal issues remain to be resolved: Helmsley's instructions are specified in a two-page mission statement for the overall trust (which will apparently be created from the bulk of her estate, after other bequests are paid), rather than in Helmsley's will or the trust documents. And trustees—and the judge overseeing the probate case concerning Helmsley's death last year at age 87—will have some discretion to determine exactly how the income generated from the trust will be spent, the newspaper notes.

As discussed in a previous ABAJournal.com post, Judge Renee Roth of Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan has earlier demonstrated flexibility by approving seven-figure settlements with two grandchildren that Helmsley cut out of her will and reducing the trust that the hotel heiress left to her own personal pet, Trouble, from $12 million to $2 million.

Originally, the 2003 mission statement for Helmsley's overall trust had two goals, the newspaper recounts, relying on unnamed sources. "The first goal was to help indigent people, the second to provide for the care and welfare of dogs. A year later, they said, she deleted the first goal."

The five trustees have hired a philanthropic advisory service to try to figure out a way to follow Helmsley’s intentions yet pursue broader charitable goals, according to the Times.

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