Helmsley Estate Trustees Dogged by Big Three

by Mary Haight on August 13, 2009

Harry Helmsley Mausoleum
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The Helmsley estate trustees were in the news here in February for winning an opinion that allowed them to overturn the express wishes of Helmsley and distribute funds as they saw fit.  It was a shocking verdict, basically setting precedent that a person’s last wishes can be ignored if the full power to direct funds is given to trustees.

Huh?  That was a general reaction that ran through the industry, whose celebration for what would be a life-changing amount of money for the state of animals was silenced by this court- sanctioned travesty. Legal ins and outs little understood by the layperson managed to steal that money away from the animals it was intended to help.  It became obvious the trustees intended to ignore the spirit of Helmsley’s last wishes.  They would give Leona’s money to whomever they pleased, Leona be damned.  Something less than $100,000 has gone to the dogs out of $136 million intially available for distribution.

ASPCA, HSUS, and Maddie’s Fund are not going to take this hijacking of funds lying down.  Even though an accommodation with the trustees of Helmsley’s estate was attempted, it was in the end rebuffed. “Mrs. Helmsley’s Trust Agreement and Mission Statement were clear: Help dogs. And the trustees have not done this, and instead pursued their own agendas with Mrs. Helmsley’s money,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Every person with a will or estate, and every charity that relies on bequest income, should be profoundly concerned about this misdirection of funds.”

Richard Avanzino of Maddie’s Fund weighed in: “Literally hundreds of millions of dollars that have been willed by people nationally, who cared about dogs, have not gone to provide for dogs as was intended. The ignoring of donor intent in this country has become an unspoken national shame.

“With $5 billion at stake this is a game changer. We want to work with the Helmsley trustees to arrive at a figure that is consistent with Mrs. Helmsley’s intentions and would change injustices in dog care and welfare overnight. For instance, even a small fraction of this money makes it possible to virtually empty all animal shelters in America of dogs without homes.”

Ed Sayres, President and CEO of the ASPCA added “There has been a sea change in recent years in how we treat animals and the Helmsley trustees don’t understand that change.  Mrs. Helmsley understood the importance of animal welfare and was determined to help. She had a vision for her worldly estate to make our society a better place for dogs and animals, and consequently, people. We want that noble cause to go forward. Dogs give us so much in our lives, and the least we can do is make sure they are not harmed, exploited or neglected, and the Helmsley estate allows us to do so. It is not an overstatement to say that the fate of dogs in this country could very well rest on the decision of this lawsuit.”

A motion by these three organizations has been filed to intervene and vacate the intial order.
Read more at HSUS 

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