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Karlin
31st August 2007, 10:43 AM
An interesting piece from today's Guardian G2 section on providing for animals after you die -- if, unlike like Leona Helmsley's dog Trouble, they don't inherit $5 million.


Super rich furry animals
Laura Barton on animals who inherit fortunes

Laura Barton
Friday August 31, 2007
Guardian

For a time at least, the glossy advertisements for Helmsley Hotels in the American press featured the chain's infamous owner, Leona Helmsley, smiling regally, accompanied by her dog, a white Maltese bitch. It seems fitting that in the end this is what Helmsley's life boiled down to: a twin devotion to property and a dog named Trouble.
When Helmsley - property tycoon, Queen of Mean, and former jailbird - died last week aged 87, the bulk of her estate went to charity, but she left a substantial portion of her wealth - $12m (£6m) - to Trouble. The decision to leave money to her pet rather than her family has astonished many. Helmsley was a widow, and her one son, Jay Panzirer, died in 1982. But her will overlooked two of her grandchildren, "for reasons which are known to them", and left the remaining two $5m (£2.5m) in cash and $5m in trusts, with the caveat that they would only collect their money if they were to visit their father's grave "at least once each calendar year".

Her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who also received a payout, has been entrusted with caring for Trouble. "I direct that when my dog, Trouble, dies, her remains shall be buried next to my remains in the Helmsley Mausoleum," the will further stated. The Helmsley Mausoleum sits in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in the northern suburbs of New York, and Helmsley has allotted $3m (£1.5m) to ensure its upkeep.

It is safe to say that Helmsley loved Trouble. They shared a bed, and according to her disgruntled former maid, Zamfira Sfara (who once filed a suit against Helmsley alleging that Trouble bit her), "she would lick the dog tongue to tongue". Helmsley dressed Trouble in expensive outfits and a diamond collar, and fed her meals specially prepared by a chef (steamed or grilled chicken and fish served with steamed vegetables, delivered in porcelain bowls on a silver tray).

Helmsley's pet bequest is not so unusual, however. Consider, if you will, Frankie the chihuahua, who, upon the death of his owner in 1999, became the beneficiary of a one-third share of a £5m home in San Diego. Or Jasper, once a resident of Battersea Dogs' Home, now master of a fortune of £150,000 after his owner left him £50,000 in shares in 1995. When Christina Foyle, heir to the London bookshop Foyles, died in 1999, she left £100,000 to her former handyman so that he might continue to care for her six pet tortoises and her dog Bobby. To her former housekeeper, Foyle bequeathed a cottage, on condition that she looked after her 13 cats.

"People regularly want to make provision for their pets after their death," says Julie Francis, an expert in probate law and founder of Francis & Co, a solicitors firm in South Guildford. "I'm an animal-lover, I have dogs and geese and I secretly want a parrot, and so I identified this problem in 1988: in all the wills I had seen at other law firms there was no concern for the pets." Francis has devised "a very long clause" that essentially says, "My executors shall find a loving home for my pets, and they are to make provision to the new owner for lifelong care of those pets - vets' bills, the cost of kennels for two weeks while on holiday, the type of food they are used to, even euthanasia at the end."

Eighteen months ago, Francis saw this clause come into effect, when a woman with three German Shepherds, owls, doves, geese and parrots died. "The executors consulted the family vet and he produced an actuarial [calculated sum of probable expenses] for the animals, and then a rescue charity found homes for the dogs."

It is, Francis explains, a tricky business. "I always say never, ever leave your pet to a neighbour with a sum of money. You know why? They have it put down and take the money," she says. "It really is the best thing if you leave it to the executors, and certainly not the pet itself - I have always said never leave money to a pet. Why? Because they can't look after it. In English law it's invalid. Because a pet doesn't have a bank account".

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007