Do you remember all the hubbub a few years ago when Leona Helmsley, the “Queen of Mean,” died leaving $12 million in trust for her little dog, Trouble?
Trouble Has Died, What Now?
The bequest was challenged, and the court ultimately reduced the value of the dog’s trust fund to $2 million. Sadly, Trouble has died, and the death of the little Maltese raised the question, what happens to the money left in Trouble’s trust? In accordance with Helmsley’s estate plan, the remaining funds will revert to the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which is where the bulk of Helmsley’s fortune went to begin with.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust
In the meantime, the Helmsley Charitable Trust has been involved in controversy of its own. Helmsley’s estate plan left the management of the trust, for the most part, to discretion of the trustees. However, Leona Helmsley also left a “mission statement” (a non-binding letter of intent) stating that she wanted the bulk of her trust to “provide for the care of dogs.” Since the mission statement is non-binding, the trustees have chosen to support an array of charities, with dog charities making up only a small fraction.
A Lesson to be Learned
There are a number of lessons we can take away from the Helmsley estate, but maybe the most important one is how best to ensure that your wishes are followed when it comes to settling your own estate. If you want something done a specific way after your death, it’s critical that you leave instructions in a legally-binding form. A “mission statement” or letter of intent is great for explaining your intentions to your loved ones, but it’s powerless to make sure your wishes are carried out.
A qualified, experienced estate planning attorney can alert you to any possible problems with your estate plan and can help you make sure your plan actually works as intended.