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Leona Helmsley's fortune to be donated primarily to medical charities; trustees throw $1-million bone to dogs

Leona Helmsley's fortune will go to medical research (her trustees threw a $1-million bone to animal charities) "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley apparently had a soft spot: The real estate magnate, who died in 2007, had a beloved Maltese dog named Trouble and wanted her vast fortune to be donated to animal charities after her death.

Helmsley's instructions for the dispersal of her trust, estimated to be in the neighborhood of $5-8 billion, stipulated that the lion's share go toward the care and welfare of dogs.  But a provision in the instructions suggested Helmsley's trustees should be allowed to use their discretion as they doled out the funds, and just how binding her instructions would be was in doubt. "The statement is an expression of her wishes that is not necessarily legally binding," William Josephson, a lawyer who spent five years as the head of New York's Charities Bureau, told the New York Times.

Turns out, the trustees are making use of the "discretion" they were allowed.  They've announced that they plan to donate $136 million to various charities; of that amount, $1 million will go to dogs.  The Associated Press reports:

Helmsley's estate announced its first round of charitable grants today. The largest, $40 million, goes to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The majority goes to New York City hospitals and other health-care systems across the country.

Helmsley's estate distributed $1 million to 10 animal rights groups, including $100,000 to the ASPCA.

Of the $136 million (including the $40-million New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center donation), almost all -- about $115 million, according to the Wall Street Journal -- will go to fund medical research on diabetes, Alzheimer's and heart disease. 

Other grants distributed by the trustees will fund rural health care, New York-based homeless shelters and food banks, environmental conservation, education, and emergency services programs.

Helmsley famously attempted to leave a $12-million trust fund to care for Trouble after her death, but a judge reduced the amount last year to $2 million and decreed that the remaining $10 million earmarked for the little dog's care should go to Helmsley's charitable foundation.

What do you think -- should Helmsley's wishes to donate most of her fortune to animals have been honored, or were her trustees right in sharing the wealth with other human-related charities? 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Helmsley at a 2003 court appearance.  Credit: Chip East/Reuters.

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I'm sure she's turning over in her grave at this news. I think she meant that their descretion as to what animals charities and the amounts. NOT their descretion as to what OTHER organizations. Her wish was that the vast majority go to animal charities. They did not honor her wish. SHAME ON THEM!!!!

Absolutely criminal.

She was of sound mind and had a legal will that cleary directed how she wanted her funds to be used - and the government simply ignorred it and hijacked her money.

Welcome to Amerika in the 21st century.

I bet the judges involved had a nice pay day ;)

I'm sure a few new Swiss Bank Accounts were opened during this time :)

USA, the best legal system money can buy!

If wills are not honored by the courts what is the point of wrighting one in the first place. The Judge and trestees in this case are in cohutes and I bet the are laughing all the way to the bank.

The fact that she had little regard for people and that most people would find that fact un-admirable doesn't mean that they can basically steal the dead woman's money.

Maybe her strategy was that providing for Trouble in such luxury would keep her from descending to Hell for 10 minutes. Not sure. Good luck with that.

The irony is that Leona Helmsley's money will go toward causing pain and death to perhaps hundreds of thousands of animals who will be experimented on via the useless "research" her money will now be paying for. This is a direct contradiction of the intent of her legacy. The bottom line is that the lives and well being of members of other species is just not valued enough by most people. They regard them as little more than ambulatory ash trays. Leona should have given her money to the groups that she wanted to have it while she was still alive.

@Jackie: Most of those experiments will be performed on rats and mice--I doubt La Diva Helmsley would've let such creatures anywhere near her precious person.

If she'd been thinking about the one human being she ever really cared about--her late husband--she might have realized that animal experiments could lead to a cure to the disease (Alzheimer's) that took his life.

Instead, Helmsley had to give the human race one last "bleep you." And her executors said, "bleep you" right back. You're right that she should've given her money where she wanted it to go when she was alive. But maybe if she'd treated the people around her decently, they might've been more respectful of her wishes after her death.

As for the lives of other species not being valued, we're the only species that ever cares about other animals. We pamper our dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and other companions. Meanwhile, out in the wild, they'd just be prey. As would we.

Honor the wishes of the deceased. We already know how to reduce the incidence of diabetes and heart disease: Eat a plant-based diet. Exercise. The medical research industry is a self-perpetuating behemoth. The generosity of this one person could help make all US "shelters" no kill and help hundreds of struggling rescue groups who get no financial support. Thank you, Mrs. Helsmley.

"The irony is that Leona Helmsley's money will go toward causing pain and death to perhaps hundreds of thousands of animals who will be experimented on via the useless "research" her money will now be paying for. "

I do think it is too bad that they couldn't have just used the money for the causes she had asked it to go to, rather than also using it for other good causes. It seems like its her money, and it should go wherever she wanted it to.

But, I have issue with your above statement. First, the belief you hold that research is useless is totally false. Have you been vaccinated? ever taken antibiotics? ever taken any medication whatsoever? ever had surgery? has anyone you loved? then you are the direct beneficiary of animal based medical research. I'm sure you'll be writing to the researchers soon to thank them for the extra 25 years they have added to your life and the pain and suffering they have saved you and your loved ones.

The other important point is, though, that medical research using animals does not just benefit humans. If your pet has ever needed medication (for instance, cats who get feline leukemia or bladder problems or even needed to be anesthetized for a teeth cleaning or to be spayed/neutered) then your pet has benefited from animal based medical research. This research has even been applied to help do things like re-establish endangered species. These kinds of medical break throughs help ALL of us.

If Leona Helmsley had stipulated that her billions be used to created a diamond sarcophagus for herself, with an eternal flame and a phalanx of guards, I bet those wishes would have been honored. But since it was to benefit animals, the execu-thieves decided that she had no rights to decide the use of her money. The courts have abetted them in looting the dead woman's estate and disregarding her wishes.

Even the paltry sliver that has been given to so-called dog-related causes went largely to programs that train animals to help people. Those are worthy causes, but they are not dog welfare. Mrs. Helmsley's wishes for the disposition of her estate are being ignored. The fact that she may not have been a nice person does not make that acceptable.

The Helmsley billions could have (and still could, if this misuse is stopped) improved animal shelters and set up companion animal sancturies, health care subsidies, and adoption centers across the country, and if her will had truly been honored, that is how her estate would have been used. The issue is not which causes are more deserving; it's what the decedent dictated her estate be used for. This outcome is outrageous..

Oh this is so sad that her fortune is going to Cornell University animal experiments. They are notorious for hurting animals in the name of scientific research. The money basically went to people, to the health industry. human hospitals and colleges. OUTRAGEOUS.

What a hellish outcome.. couldn't get worse. Humane organizations working with animals should have gotten the majority of the monies.
Leona!! I hope you are watching!!!
This just makes me want to cry. Once again, animals lose at the hands of greedy human beings who can't see anybody being helped over their own greedy selves.

Many of these judges have financial interests in the charities that they steer money to

This is American court corruption in all its splendor

The judge should be thrown in jail for conspiracy to alter a legal will


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