Leona Helmsley was controversial in life. And now, two years after her death, her $5.2 billion-dollar estate is spawning a legal battle (and media circus).
Animal-welfare groups are accusing the trustees of Helmsley's estate of ignoring her wishes that the bulk of her money go to dog-related charities and rescue groups. Instead, the animal advocates said Tuesday, the trustees have shown "disdain" for Helmsley's pet cause by donating only $100,000 to dog welfare.
Three animal-welfare groups filed a petition in Manhattan Surrogate's Court on Monday arguing that Helmsley specified in her will that her estate should be used to help dogs. The groups — the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Maddie's Fund — 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.
A “mission statement” in Helmsley's will directed that the money be spent on the care of dogs and other charitable interests designated by the trustees. But it also gave the trustees discretion in spending the money.
"This is an issue of donor intent. She wanted to money to go, at least in large measure, to go to the care of dogs. That has been completely put aside," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Of the $136 million that so far has been spent by the trust, all but $1 million of it has gone to medical centers that help humans. Groups that train seeing eye dogs received $900,000, and just $100,000 went to the ASPCA, a group that helps dogs directly.
"To turn a blind eye to Mrs. Helmsley 's wishes, which is what the trustees have done, we believe is frankly unconscionable," Pacelle said.
Let’s see, five-point-two billion dollars! Nope. Couldn’t have predicted a lawsuit over the “Queen of Mean’s” money. — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.