Image: Leona Helmsley
Louis Lanzano  /  AP
Leona Helmsley's fortune was estimated at $5 billion to $8 billion after her death in 2007.
updated 8/12/2009 5:55:09 AM ET 2009-08-12T09:55:09

Animal-welfare groups are accusing the trustees of hotel queen Leona Helmsley's multibillion-dollar estate of ignoring her wishes that the lion's share of the money should go to the dogs.

Instead, the animal advocates said Tuesday, the trustees have shown "disdain" for Helmsley's pet cause by donating only $100,000 to dog welfare.

Three animal-welfare groups filed a petition in Manhattan Surrogate's Court on Monday arguing that Helmsley, who died in 2007 , specified in her will that her estate should be used to help dogs, and the trustees disregarded those wishes.

The groups — the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Maddie's Fund — want the court to throw out a judge's February decision that gave the trustees for the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust sole authority to determine which charities would benefit from her estate.

A "mission statement" in Helmsley's will directed that the money be spent on the care of dogs and other charitable interests designated by the trustees. But it also gave the trustees discretion in spending the money.

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society, said dog welfare was "the only charitable interest specifically designated in the trust instrument. ... But what we've seen is an utter disdain for the cause of animal welfare and a complete writing off of the animal welfare concern."

In April, the Helmsley trustees gave away $136 million to hospitals , foundations and the homeless. Just $100,000 went to an animal-welfare group, the ASPCA. Another $900,000 went to groups that train guide dogs for the blind.

The trust, in a statement posted on its Web site, said Helmsley never wanted her fortune just to go to dogs.

"Did Leona Helmsley intend for this charitable trust to focus on the care and help of dogs, rather than people? Absolutely not," the statement said.

Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the trust, added in an e-mailed statement Tuesday: "The trustees will be litigating this matter in the court, not in the press."

Helmsley, whose fortune was estimated at $5 billion to $8 billion after her death at age 87, also named her dog, Trouble, as a beneficiary, leaving a $12 million trust fund for the white Maltese. A judge whittled that amount down to $2 million.

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