Trusts & Estates

Does Helmsley Fortune Go to the Dogs? Trustees Will Decide, N.Y. Judge Says


A New York judge has ruled that trustees of a fund established under the will of hotel heiress Leona Helmsley have sole discretion to determine how much of her multibillion-dollar estate will go to the dogs.

A mission statement filed in 2004 said that the first purpose of the Leona M. and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust is to make grants for “purposes related to the provision of care for dogs,” reports the Associated Press. However, the mission statement then says that trustees also have the power to fund “such other charitable activities as the trustees shall determine.”

That language, in conjunction with her will, gives the trustees sole discretion to determine for what charitable purposes, and in what amounts, the money Helmsley put in their care will be spent, Manhattan Surrogate Judge Troy Webber held on Feb. 19.

Helmsley’s fortune was estimated at $5 to $8 billion when she died in 2007 at age 87. However, the value may now be different due to changed market conditions since then.

The judge’s decision doesn’t change Helmsley’s $2 million bequest to her dog, Trouble, which resulted in death threats against the Maltese, according to the New York Times.

The probate process tends to disfavor money left to benefit animals, says Bernard Unti of the Humane Society of the United States.

“Whatever the legal status of the mission statement, it certainly signaled a clear intent on Mrs. Helmsley’s part to see the money used to help dogs,” he tells the Times. “The animal welfare sector in the United States and abroad is chronically underfunded, and just the annual interest thrown off by an estate this large could do a tremendous amount of good for animal shelters, street dog protection and the suppression of dog fights and other cruelty.”

Additional coverage:

PR Newswire: “Statement of the Trustees of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Regarding the Surrogate’s Court Decision”

ABAJournal.com: “Helmsley’s Estimated $8B Fortune Helps Get Top Billing for Animal Rights”

ABAJournal.com: “Leona Helmsley Left $5-$8 Billion in Trust for Stray Dogs, Other US Canines”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Cuts $10M from Leona Helmsley’s $12M Bequest to Dog”

Updated at 7:30 p.m. to add information from subsequent New York Times article.

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