Leona Helmsley – Is $12 Million Too Much To Care For A Dog?

by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez

Leona Helmsley was a hotel heiress, which means she was very wealthy! And, although many people referred to Leona as the Queen of Mean, I don’t. Leona had a white Maltese named Trouble, which she adored. So, if she loved a dog, how mean could she be, right? In my book, anyone who cares that much for animals must have a heart.

Leona passed away in 2007. Fortunately, she had done Estate Planning. Good for her.

In her Estate Plan, Leona left the bulk of her wealth, estimated at more than four billion dollars, to a Charitable Trust. Excellent. What’s more, she specifically set up a $12 million Trust fund for her dog, Trouble. What is so mean about that? Wouldn’t you like to take care of Trouble? I know I would.

But there’s more. Leona Helmsley disinherited two of her grandchildren for seemingly whimsical reasons. So, of course there was going to be litigation.

As part of the case in court, Trouble’s caregiver testified that only two million dollars was needed to pay for Trouble’s maintenance for more than 10 years. The budget included the following expenses:

  • $100,000 for full-time security, due to threats against Trouble
  • $8,000 for grooming
  • $1,200 for food, AND …
  • The caregiver was to be paid a $60,000 guardianship fee every year. Nice gig.

Despite her big, generous heart for her four-legged friend, the court ruled that Leona Helmsley was mentally unfit when she executed her Will. For this reason, and in consideration of the caregiver’s testimony, the court reduced the $12 million Trust Fund for this very special pet to two million. The remaining $10 million originally set for Trouble was distributed as follows:

  • $4 million was awarded to a Charitable Trust
  • $6 million was awarded to the 2 disinherited grandchildren

Incidentally, Trouble died at age 12 in December 2010, just three years after Leona’s passing. In accordance with the Trust, the remainder of the funds designated to Trouble’s care then went to Charitable Trusts for the benefit of dogs, further extending Leona’s legacy in line with her passion for animals.

So, the moral of this story is that the terms of your Trust must be reasonable. According to the courts, and I guess it makes sense, Leona overfunded the Pet Trust. For this reason, Leona Helmsley’s story makes our list of articles about Famous Estates and was also listed as third in Fortune magazine’s “101 Dumbest Moments in Business” of 2007.

How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?

If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, then we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website www.menendezlawfirm.com

Nydia Menedez Nydia Menéndez
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax:  (954) 963-7232
menedez law firm

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