Animal Rights Groups Have a Bone to Pick with Helmsley Trust

BlogHer Original Post

While the late Leona Helmsley's number one beneficiary - her beloved Maltese, Trouble - naps quietly in Florida, a different trouble is brewing around the Queen of Mean's estate. Earlier this week, three of the country's largest animal welfare groups accused the trustees of Helmsley's estate of a "scheme to deprive dog welfare charities" of their slice of the real estate baroness' remaining pie.

The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Maddie's Fund (a charitable foundation created by the former chief executive of the business software company PeopleSoft), filed a petition in Manhattan Surrogate Court arguing that Helmsley, who died in 2007, specified in her will that her multibillion-dollar estate should be used to help dogs and that the trustees have flat out ignored these wishes.

“Who are these trustees to second-guess either Mrs. Helmsley’s wishes or the legitimacy of kindness and compassion for animals?”

--Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society

The groups want the court to throw out a judge's February decision that gave the trustees for the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust sole authority to determine which charities would benefit from her estate.

Last spring, the trustees gave away $136 million to hospitals, foundations and the homeless. They also gave $1 million to animal charities, including $100,000 to the ASPCA and groups that train guide dogs for the blind. The groups point out that seeing-eye dogs serve people, not vice-versa, and once again, this was not Helmsley’s intention.

The trust has issued a statement on their web site insisting that Helmsley never intended her fortune to be spent entirely on doggie care:

"Did Leona Helmsley intend for this charitable trust to focus on the care and help of dogs, rather than people? Absolutely not. Have the trustees of this vast fortune acted improperly and ignored Mrs. Helmsley's instructions? Again, absolutely not."

Law watchers claim that the lawsuit faces significant hurdles due to the fact that none of three groups are specifically named in Helmsley’s will or in the mission statement.

“There’s no question this is a huge hill to climb. This phenomenal wealth is being redirected at the behest of male trustees who have chosen to ignore the direction and wishes of their benefactor.”

--Rick Avanzino, president of Maddie’s Fund

The hotel heiress left behind $5-8 billion when she died age 87, including a $12 million trust fund for Trouble, although a judge has since reduced the trust to $2 million. I mean, how many dog bones can a tiny Maltese eat, y'know? (Word was that Helmsley cut her grandchildren entirely out of her will because that none had named any of their children after her
late husband, Harry, who died in 1997.)

In any case, the bad-tempered Trouble was last spotted living the high life (including $100,000-a-year security staff) at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel in Sarasota, Fla., oblivious to anything beyond his gold-plated doggie bowl.


Just One More Pet thinks we should all butt out:

"I say… Who is this judge to over rule someone’s will? This money should all go to the charities and Leona’s designations, which means all to animals or the dogs if that was Leona’s wish! Leona was a tough old bird and knew what she wanted!!!! And if she wanted to disinherit her grandkids… so be it! Why even a make will????"

Carly over at Carly's Views tries to get her arms around the massive will:

"When Trouble's days on Earth are over, she is to be buried next to her mistress in the $1.4 million mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Westchester County, New York. Talk about a pampered pooch. She was less generous to her late son Jay Panzirer's children, cutting Craig and Meegan Panzire out completely for "reasons which are known to them" and leaving a relatively paltry $5 million each to David and Walter Panzirer."

Meanwhile, Pets Unlimited plays Devil's Advocate:

"Seems like more people just fighting over the famous Helmsley fund at this point. To be honest, the woman only passed away two years ago, just recently the courts had to deal with the whole millions of dollars to her dog thing and it really does take time to give away lots of money. Plus, the trustees had given another $900,000 to groups that train guide dogs for the blind. So, they’ve actually donated one million dollars towards dog related causes."


(Image Credits: Top - Graylock/AP; Middle - Splash News; Bottom -


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.