Looking for Trouble

In death as much as life, hotelier and real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley proved that she really was the Queen of Mean. Helmsley, who is famously reported to have once said that “only the little people pay taxes”, died last week at the age of 87. With an estimated fortune of around $4 billion, she might have been expected to spread some love around in her last will and testament which was revealed today. But I somehow doubt that her family will be cracking open the Cristal this evening.

Unless you’re her beloved pet dog Trouble, that is.

Helmsley set aside a $12 million trust fund for the 8-year-old white Maltese dog, who once lived up to her name by biting a housekeeper. It’s interesting that the dog only gets the cash in a trust, rather than getting immediate access to the cash. Presumably Helmsley couldn’t quite trust Trouble not to go out and fritter the cash away on Bonio’s and fast poodles?

Trouble was the biggest beneficiary of the will, narrowly edging out Helmsley’s brother Alvin who was gifted a $10 million trust fund. Grandchildren David and Walter Panzirer each ‘only’ managed to pick up $5 million outright and another $5 million in trusts, but even then they might not pick up a single cent. The provisions in Helmsley’s will state that to receive any money from the trust, the pair must visit the grave of their father at least once a year. And if they don’t? Their interest in the trust will be terminated at the end of that calendar year, and they will each be treated as if they “had then died”.

Jonathan J Rikoon, a member of the New York City Bar Association’s committee on trusts, estates and surrogate’s courts, admitted that the provision was “quite unusual”, and that Helmsley was a woman who “from what I understand, had some family issues”. You don’t say…

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Helmsley’s other two grandchildren were not only written out of the will, but specifically excluded:

“I have not made any provisions in this will for my grandson Craig Panzirer or my granddaughter Meegan Panzirer for reasons which are known to them.”

Given that Leona Helmsley was a woman who once served a jail term of eighteen months for tax fraud, one can only speculate on what Craig or Meegan might have done to deserve their treatment.

The other personal recipient of some Helmsley largesse was her chauffeur, Nicholas Celea. And his reward for loyal service? A cool $100,000. Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say no to anyone offering me $100,000. But bear in mind that this is a woman who was worth an estimated $4 billion. Leaving her chauffeur a bequest of $100,000 is rather like me going for a nice meal, finding myself short of change, and leaving a tip of 12p: the thought was there, but in the end, it’s still a bit of a slap in the face for the receiver.

Helmsley was never much of a philanthropist in life. In recent years she donated around $35 million to good causes, but the figure would be more a tax write-off than any serious attempt at charity. The irony is that her refusal to give more money to friends and family means that the vast majority of her fortune will go to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. In death, it seems that Leona Helmsley may become the Queen of Kind after all.

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