For anyone over the age of about 40, the name Leona Helmsley should ring a bell. For anyone not familiar with the name, she was a New York hotel heiress who was known as the “Queen of Mean.” Apparently though, Helmsley did have a soft spot for the pooch she bought after her husband died in 1997 since she left him a pet trust worth a staggering $12 million upon her death.
Helmsley named the little Maltese “Trouble”–a name that may have sealed his destiny. Not only did Helmsley leave the little guy a $12 million trust, but she also disinherited a number of her close family members in her estate plan. Not surprisingly, a battle over her estate ensued and the probate judge eventually reduced the amount of the pet trust to $2 million. Unfortunately, Trouble lived with constant death threats and even a few kidnapping attempts during his lifetime as a result of the pet trust left by Helmsley.
A pet trust can be an extremely useful estate planning tool for anyone who has a pet that is like family. A pet trust not only allows you to leave sufficient funds behind to care for the animal, but also allows you to dictate how the animal will be cared for and by whom. When creating your pet trust though, be realistic. Talk to your estate planning attorney before you decide to leave your dog more than you leave your family as that is almost a sure fire way to insight a lengthy, and costly, probate battle as was the case with the Helmsley pet trust.