When the filthy rich New York real estate tyrant Leona Helmsley died in 2007, she left $10 million each to two of her grandchildren, disinherited the others, and bestowed her Maltese pup, Trouble, with a whopping $12 million trust fund.
Trouble lived out the rest of its long and glorious life in sunny Florida, eventually dying at the ripe old age of 12 – probably the result of eating wagyu kibble and receiving monthly cryogenic facials.
Helmsley was famous for being a mean old broad to her employees and her own flesh and blood. But she did love Trouble and worried about what would happen to the dog after she died.
And that makes Helmsley not so different from a lot of American families.
Usually, average folks who leave their beloved pets a mention in their wills are just trying to ensure that someone's kind enough to take them in, and they to provide something in advance for food and vet care. If no guardian can be found, a trust fund ensures that Fido won’t be sent off to the Humane Society.
“Usually our older, retired clients are not uber wealthy,” says estate lawyer Chuck Roulet. “It’s just that they’ve got a pet and that pet is like family to them. They want to make sure that somebody is willing to come forward to take care of the pet, and primarily they’re just concerned that they’re not leaving a financial burden for this person. They want to help.”
Currently, 47 states legally recognize trust funds for pets. Minnesota, along with Kentucky and Louisiana, do not.
And it is never good to be in league with Louisiana or Kentucky.
The best Minnesotans can do for their furry sons and daughters is make an informal agreement and hope that person follows through. But the money is legally the caretaker's. And if he or she gets a divorce or has creditors, Fido’s money is fair game.
“A trust is different,” Roulet says. “When you actually set up a trust for your pet, you actually have a trustee, and that trustee is obligated, legally, to follow the terms of the trust.”
State Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) have proposed a new bill to bring Minnesota in line with the majority of other states that recognize pet trusts.
“I can’t think of any good reason not to,” Roulet says.