Helmsley Money Set-Back for Dog Charities


Image: created by author using images under CC from jbcurio and Nevada Tumbleweed

Stunned headlines followed news that Leona Helmsley's dog, Trouble, became a millionare in her own right after the "Queen of Mean" left her pet $12 million in her will. But doggy do-gooders everywhere looked forward to an even bigger jackpot when it appeared that Helmsley's entire trust, valued at $5 to 8 billion in 2008, would be dedicated to caring for the welfare of dogs. However, of $450 million in funds disbursed by the trust to date, only about $100,000 has gone to benefit man's best friend. The doggy do-good team just got more bad news: their legal case to redirect the monies has been denied.Helmsley's will has been contentious from the get-go. Her Maltese dog's comfy retirement was reduced to a mere $2 million in an earlier court decision.

In the most recent challenge, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and other animal charities argued to judge Nora Anderson that the distribution of funds by the Helmsley trustees should more closely follow the late businesswoman's wishes. Judge Anderson agreed with the plaintiffs that the trustees were failing to abide by Helmsley's intentions for the money under their control.

But the Judge denied the request to redirect the funds through the power of her court. The judge recognized a precedent giving the trustees the sole discretion over the money, based on a finding that Helmsley's written directions in the will do not legally bind the trustees to use the funds for canine causes. She also cited concern that the class in the class action suit is too poorly defined, opening the door for every organization linked to animal care to sue for a piece of the Helmsley estate.

The animal groups have said that they will appeal.

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