Leona Helmsley was a wealthy New Yorker who left $12 million to her little white Maltese named Trouble. To the “potential” heirs who received nothing, Trouble’s trust fund was a final punch in the stomach from Leona.
The amount of money that Leona left to care for Trouble was challenged in court and was reduced to $2 million – the remaining $10 million was distributed grandchildren who had been cut out of her will. But wait, it was her money so why shouldn’t she be able to do what she wanted with it, right?
I believe that people should be able to do whatever they want to with their money. And, leaving money to care for a loved pet is high on the list of what my clients’ deem important. For some people, the constant companionship of a pet is the only thing that brings them happiness and gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Knowing that pet trusts are legally enforceable makes older clients feel comfortable getting pets who may outlive them because they know they can provide care for them even after their death.
While pet trusts are enforceable, courts can reduce the amount left for the care of a pet if the amount is deemed excessive. The court for Trouble held that $2 million, suggested by the caretaker, was a reasonable amount to provide the highest standard of care for Trouble’s remaining lifetime (which included an annual guardian fee of approximately $60,000 for him) and the remaining “excessive” amount passed to heirs. The lesson that Trouble’s case conveys is that when considering how much to leave for a pet’s care, the answer is “it depends”. It depends on; the overall value of the estate; the foreseeable cost for the lifetime care of the pet; who the remainder beneficiaries may potentially be; and, ultimately, what a court determines if the pet trust ever comes under court scrutiny.