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Leona loved that dog

That Leona Helmsley. She's going out with just as much critical attention as she garnered in life as the Queen of Mean. Her death earlier this month was blogged here.

Leona_and_trouble_2 Now Helmsley's will has been made public. And we learn that the hotel mogul left $12 million to her dog, a white Maltese named Trouble.

Wisely, the bequest is in a trust, to be overseen by Helmsley's brother, so the pup can't spend all that cash at once.

And it's not like the dog didn't deserve something. In addition to providing companionship, Trouble also appeared in ads for the Helmsley Hotels. Of course, she also bit a housekeeper, "she" being Trouble, not Leona.

According to Gerry W. Berger, Texas Tech University School of Law professor and author of the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog, trusts for pets are valid under New York law. However, the court may reduce the amount of the property if it determines that it substantially exceeds the amount required for the dog, with the excess then passing as part of Helmsley's residuary estate.

Forbes reports that 57 percent of pet-focused owners had formal arrangements in place in the event they died before their pets, with 27 percent of them setting up a trust for their pet, to the tune of $526,000. Human family members weren't forgotten; 90 percent of those pet trusts distribute remaining funds to less-furry family once the pet dies.

Berger hits the Helmsley will highlights in this post; he offers a more-detailed analysis here. The provisions getting the most attention, aside from Trouble's trust, are Helmsley's decisions to:

  • Leave two of her four grandchildren nothing for "reasons that are known to them,"
  • Set aside $3 million to maintain her mausoleum, and
  • Direct that when Trouble dies, she will be buried alongside her master in the mausoleum.

You can read Helmsley's full will here.

Being of sound mind and body: The rich, they definitely are different from the rest of us hoi polloi. But there's one thing that we share with the wealthy.

Everyone, even those of us who don't have millions to leave to our pets, needs a will. Regardless of age or assets, a last will and testament should be a part of your financial and estate plans. has some general information on wills, as well as links to help you find an estate lawyer in your area. And yes, most of us should get legal counsel for this document. Your life, viewed in legal and financial terms, might be more complicated than you realize.

If it's a simple will, it won't cost you that much to have it drawn up by a lawyer. And it could save your family the expense and trouble of dealing, during a trying time, with a self-written document that might not meet the legal requirements of your jurisdiction.

California lawyer Jay Rose also offers this handy FAQ page on the importance of having a will.


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Pamela, point taken. But then, most of us are not going to be disinheriting relatives. Rather, we'll be disposing of our property how we, not the state, wished. Kay

Pamela Marsen

Your statement that a will is so necessary for everyone loses a lot of its clout in light of the fact that the trustees of Helmsley's will have virtually ignored her stipulations. This is truly a scandal! Why bother writing a will if its particulars are going to be ignored?

Chief Family Officer

It's been a loooooooong time since I took Wills & Trusts in law school, but I seem to recall that only heirs who could argue they were inadvertently left out of a will had a real chance at contesting it. Since Helmsley obviously left the two grandchildren deliberately, I would bet they don't get any money.

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