Tag: leona Helmsley
While the majority of people use their wills to provide for their friends and family after they have passed away, some take their wills as an opportunity to creatively leave their mark in their passing.
In today’s blog, we will look at three cases of bizarre will provisions and their outcomes.
Comedian, Jack Benny was married to his wife, Mary Livingstone, for nearly 50 years. While Jack was known to the public for his television persona of being stingy and terrible at playing the violin, Jack was quite the romantic to Mary. When Jack died in 1974, he left a provision in his will that one red rose was to be delivered to Mary every day for the rest of her life.
In a magazine article written by Mary in memory of Jack, it seems as if Jack’s wishes were carried out. Mary stated that “every day since Jack has gone, the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home.”
Real estate investor and hotel owner, Leona Helmsley, died in 2007. Leona was dubbed the “Queen of Mean”. Leona’s will stated that a $12 million trust was to be established for her Maltese dog named “Trouble”. Leona excluded two of her grandchildren from her will but included $10 million for two of her other grandchildren on the condition that they regularly visit their father’s gravesite.
Trouble’s inheritance was reduced to $2 million by the court, with the remaining balance going to Ms. Helmsley’s charitable foundation. While the loss of income may have been upsetting to Trouble, it may also have come as a relief as there were reports that the dog was forced to go into hiding after a reported threat to kidnap her.
Sam Weir, who was a retired lawyer, stipulated in his will that $3,500 was to be held in trust for the Law Society of Upper Canada. He directed that each year, the income from the trust was to be paid to the student who graduated from the Bar Admissions Course with the lowest marks. His reasoning behind this was that he knew many lawyers who became successful by “keeping their lack of knowledge in the dark.”
Sam strongly recommended that the recipient of the funds spend it on a “night on the town.” If the Law Society accepted the gift, Sam provided that it would receive an additional $10,000 to be spent on a series of lectures named the “Weir lectures”.
The Law Society declined the gift on the basis that it was not charitable.
Although adding an unconventional provision in your will might be tempting, doing so is risky as the provision could be declared invalid for a number of reasons such as uncertainty, impossibility of performance, public policy and more. If you do find yourself wanting to add a unique provision in your will such as the testators above, it is best to discuss it with a lawyer. Even retired lawyer, Sam Weir, could have benefited from such a discussion.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag and Celine Dookie
To read about some more unconventional wills, check out these blogs:
The Leona Hemsley’s estate saga continues.
Last month, three animal protection groups filed a petition requesting that the court appeal a previous decision that allowed the trustees of Helmsley’s estate sole discretion to determine how charitable trust funds would be distributed. Rick Bickhram’s previous blog provides a background to this decision.
The animal rights groups allege that Helmsley’s money is not being spent the way she intended and contrary to her expressed intentions to care for the welfare of dogs. The groups object that only $1 million of the $136 million paid out to charitable organizations this year went to organizations that assist with animal welfare. A New York Times article outlines some of the hurdles the animal rights groups face. We will see how this new development plays out.
Of course, Helmsley’s Will caught the media’s attention because she left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. Yet, Trouble’s fortune seems small compared to Gunter III, a German Shepherd who was left $80 million by Karlotta Liebenstein, an Austrian countess. If you think that’s unusual, this blog post outlines these two dogs’ fortunes and some additional “interesting” Will bequests. Estate law is almost never boring.
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I recall a good deal of discussion when Leona Helmsley left millions to be held in trust in her Will last year, some of it on the Hull & Hull blogs and podcasts.
Well, the website for Estate Planning for Pets provides some interesting reading in this vein, although the kind of trust established by Ms. Helmsley is obviously rare. My own eye was drawn to the “for skeptics” section, which admonished professionals to put their clients’ wishes first, not their own priorities.
The point seems to be that rather than focus on one’s own, subjective opinion that money to pets could be used for other purposes, it is more appropriate to consider what happens to the pet if the testator makes no provision. Absent provision, the pet could end up abused, ignored or euthanized. Anyone who has lost a beloved pet can probably understand why testators want to soften the blow to a pet who loses them.
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