Monday, April 27, 2009

Rip off

I was looking at some older posts yesterday and came across this old one about Leona Helmsley bequeathing her billions of dollars to the care and welfare of dogs. All that money going to saving dogs sounded a little too good to be true, and so it was.

Apparently, by last week, judges, lawyers and trustees had managed to whittle down that $5 billion bounty to a mere $1 million which will be divided between ten different dog related organizations, all of them, except for the ASPCA, dedicated to training dogs to assist people.

The rest of the money seems destined for human related endeavours.

The Helmsley money is supposed to be managed and distributed by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. According the to the press, when this news first broke about a year ago, the mission statement for the Trust was that its money go to "purposes related to the provision of care for dogs," along with other charities.

I took a peek at the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust homepage and lo and behold, any statement to that effect has been removed - if it was ever there. Now it mostly just talks about giving money to the field of human medicine.

And to cap it off, what must have Leona really rolling in her grave and screaming profanities about the hired help is the fact that even though she left $12 million to her dog, Trouble, the little guy only got $2 million of it while two of her grandkids, whom she had intentionally left out of her will, went to court and managed to get themselves $6 million.

That's it, of course. Dogs can't represent themselves in court so they'll always get the shorter end of the stick.

I have to wonder, what's the point of writing a will if the people entrusted with carrying it out can change it as they wish? I know a lot of people will think that giving $5 billion dollars to dogs in need is way too extravagant, though of course those same people probably wouldn't bat an eye if she had spent that money on, say, AIG or GM stock, in which case it would be practically worthless by now. When it comes down to it, it was her money and, as long as it wasn't illegal, she should have been allowed to do with it as she saw fit. She could've burnt it if she wanted.

The trustees, lawyers and judges didn't have to give the whole amount to dogs in need but it seems counter to the spirit of Leona's wishes that they gave so little.

More details here.


Joanne said...

I remember an old lady that lived at the corner where I used to live over by the vets. She died of cancer and left her house to her nephew and niece on the condition that they take care of her old dog. He was a wonderful, sweet, obedient dog with no problems at all. The house must have been in the $400,000 range and I am sure it was owned free and clear. No sooner was she buried than I started to hear rumours about them trying to find a new home for the dog. No consideration whatsoever for the fact that his whole life had been placed in upheaval. No mistress, no home and now an uncertain future. I was appalled and disgusted. I suppose this Helmsley thing is tantamount to people who take candy from children or steal old ladies' purses or defraud seniors. Some people just have no concept of honour and integrity. I have actually heard people say that you don't have to keep your word to dead people since they won't know any different. I promised my dad when he was dying that I would stop smoking. It took more than 20 years but I finally mostly did it. I kept my word... In life we are nothing but the worth of our word.... From a Rosie DiManno article about honour.."The absence of conscience is a non-correctible disfigurement of character. There is no effective treatment. In a word: Guiltlessness. More words: Remorseless, deceitful, manipulative, self-centred, callous, unscrupulous, emotionally shallow.” The link That by the way was from my sister's blog, You cannot simply reverse the wishes of a deceased in a will..otherwise what is the point of having one. I am surprised that no animal group has stepped forward to try and have the decision reversed. I would like to know how the decision came to be.....any info on that.

Social Mange said...

Personally, I'd like to see the trustees of that trust get their assets sued off. They broke faith with the deceased by completely gutting her will and ignoring her last wishes.

Wonder if the trustees are drawing fees and/or expenses from the estate? And if so, how much?

Courts are crazed. Anyone left out of a will was left out for a reason. Why award them anything?

Fred said...

Joanne, I'm not sure any animal welfare organization would have the resources to pursue a lawsuit against the trustees of the trust fund. It probably wouldn't play well in the press either because you know it's going to be spun as a human vs dog thing and then the animal welfare organization would risk losing their donation base.

Social Mange, if two people left out a will can manage to gouge out $6 million, I wouldn't be surprised if the trustees have managed to pull out a little something special for themselves. I mean all that money not being given to the dogs has to go somewhere, right?

To be fair, though, it is a $5 billion trust and so far only $136 million has been handed out. There's still a chance a good portion of the rest of it will go to dog welfare. So far, though, the amount going to the dogs has been less than 1% of the total donated.

Joanne said...

PETA and HSUS certainly have the resources to sue BUT would anyone want them to have the money. Would they share any better with the intended beneficiaries. I am surprised they haven't yet latched on to this. How much does the devil get in order for justice to be fulfilled?

EmilyS said...

As I understand what my lawyer had told me, her mistake was in not listing very specific bequests to specific organizations. And even then, executors and trustees have extraordinary.. and unbelievable.. discretion.

Give your money away WHEN YOU'RE ALIVE if you want to be sure where it will go. Or be very very sure that you chose an executor who will honor your bequests.

Fred said...

EmilyS, I do kind of wonder why she didn't give at least a good chunk of her money away while she was alive. Even if she gave away a couple of billion, I'm sure she could've lived fairly comfortably on the remainder if she, you know, scrimped a bit.