Yet Again, the Short End of the Stick…

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF Founder and General Counsel on April 22, 2009

Last August, I blogged about the reports that Leona Helmsley had chosen to leave most of her huge estate to help dogs. That news was too good to be true. And therein lays the trouble. In the last line of that blog, I asked: “will those who now control her fortune use it in a way that honors her wishes?”  Their answer is a resounding: NO! The latest news is that Helmsley’s trustees are undermining her clearly expressed wishes:

“Real estate baroness Leona Helmsley’s estate gave away $136 million Tuesday to hospitals, foundations and the homeless and left $1 million to animal charities, prompting one advocate to accuse the estate of failing to honor the hotel tycoon’s wishes.

“… a surrogate court judge ruled in February that trustees for the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust had sole authority to decide which charities benefit from her estate… Throughout their lives, the Helmsleys were committed to helping others through the innovations of medical research of responding to those in need during critical times and in other areas," the trustees said in a statement Tuesday… We now have the privilege of continuing their good works by providing support where it will make a difference." (emphasis added).

Am I to presume that protecting helpless dogs will not make a difference? To whom? Giving that money to charities that work to protect dogs could have made an enormous difference, could have helped to investigate dog abuse on a national level, could have built critically needed shelters, spayed and neutered dogs and helped bring an end to the tragedy that we kill millions of stray and homeless dogs annually. It is a supreme slap in the face, both to Mrs. Helmsley and to those hard-working, underfunded and understaffed charities to suggest that only human oriented charities are worthy of inheriting from her. It should be noted that a large chunk of the money is going to support medical research, some of which, I presume will be performed on dogs. Is that what Mrs. Helmsley’s trustees think she meant by helping dogs?! It should also be noted that most American support the proposition that you have the right to spend your money as you see fit, even if other people disagree with you, unless, of course, you spend it for something illegal or immoral. This was Mrs. Helmsley’s money, not the trustees’ money. She had every right to spend it as she wished and it is an outrage that her choice is being swept under some very expensive carpets.

A fundamental principle of probate law is that the wishes of the Testatrix (Helmsley) are to be respected and carried out. And yet, as with the Doris Duke estate and several others, we continue to see a person’s wishes ignored when those wishes mean helping animals instead of people. In my earlier blog, I quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Our society continues to show its utter disdain for those who are voiceless and greatly in need.

3 thoughts on “Yet Again, the Short End of the Stick…

  1. Jeff Kuske says:

    We are the voice of the animals. Please write to the foundation and let them be heard.

    230 PARK AVE
    NEW YORK, NY 10169-0005

    This is a travesty! Ms. Helmsley would be rolling in her grave. I am too upset to write them a letter at the moment.

  2. Valerie Lang says:

    Bravo Joyce. This is a disgrace. My father was a Surrogate Court Judge in Upstate New York for many years, and also sees this for what it is: a bad decision.

    My Animal Law class will be encouraged to write letters as well.

    Valerie Lang, J.D., M.L.S.
    Hudson Valley Community College,
    Troy, NY

  3. Chad Schultz says:

    This decision is outrageous and completely against probate law. The judge clearly displayed too much discretion. Gee, I wonder what special interests paid him…?? The comments by the trustees are utterly disgusting. The lack of concern and respect that society shows for the care of animals is more than disappointing. As far as society has come with advances in every sector of life, it remains incomprehensible that the law still views animals as mere property and not as a precious gift of life. The arrogance of humanity is, once again, placed on display for all to see…

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