I’m available, for a price
by Hoyt Harwell
Special to The Star
Feb 10, 2013 | 1940 views |  0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You probably missed that teleconference discussion on estate planning for pets.

That’s correct! Pet beneficiaries! Shades of Leona Helmsley, who left most of her $12 million estate to her white Maltese, named Trouble. Back to Trouble and trouble later.

That January teleconference, under the leash of the National Business Institute, was designed for attorneys, trust officers, estate and financial planners and accountants.

An attorney nephew, Ron Harwell of Newnan, Ga., provided me a copy of the teleconference announcement, saying it might be worth commenting on. Like a dog going for Alpo, I quickly gobbled up the idea.

First off, I asked a longtime attorney, Al Lipscomb, if he had ever handled a will benefiting a pet.

“I never did one, I don’t know anyone who has, and I don’t intend to,” he deposed.

The telephone round-table had two main topics: Animals in the eyes of the law, and pet estate-planning options. Those taking part explored “the disconnect between how we value our pets and how the law does,” and outlined pet estate-planning options — to “help clients take care of all their loved ones.”

Let me interject right here that if anyone has $12 million, or even less, to leave to a pet, I’m up for adoption, and can learn to bark or meow with the best of them. Cuddling up in someone’s lap, however, might pose problems.

During my time on this orb, I have had pet dogs and cats (I never got that pony I wanted as a child), but I never considered naming them in a will. How thoughtless!

I’m not conversant with the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, the Roman Law of the Twelve Tables, the Code of Justinian, the Napoleonic Code or numerous others, but I’ll be doggone if I believe they provided for estates for pets. I am familiar with the Mosaic laws as laid out in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and nowhere do they mention leaving earthly goods to animals.

None of that bothered Leona Helmsley, however, who made Trouble the richest lapdog in the world.

She mainly turned her back on relatives in bequeathing the millions to her Maltese, thus earning the sobriquet “The Queen of Mean.” Although a judge reduced the dog’s inheritance to $2 million, that ought to have been plenty.

Helmsley, a hotel heiress, was the one, you recall, who remarked that “only the little people pay taxes.” The government demurred, and she served 18 months in prison for tax evasion.

She died in 2007, about three years before Trouble entered that Great Kennel in the Sky. The pooch lived the equivalent of 84 human years, which shows the advantage of pet-pampering. As directed in the will, Trouble was buried beside her mistress in a 12,000-square-foot mausoleum in New York. Helmsley left $3 million to have the mausoleum thoroughly cleaned once a year because she couldn’t abide dirt — ashes to ashes and dust to dust notwithstanding.

Before Trouble whimpered her last, her caretaker spent $100,000 a year on her care, including grooming. After all, if you’re rich, you should look the part.

In addition, Trouble had trouble, receiving numerous death and kidnapping threats. Therefore, her keeper hired a full-time security guard — a novel switch from guard dog to dog guard.

An adage among probate attorneys is that a will provides a person a final chance to get revenge toward or to reward survivors.

So, if you’re rich and you want to snub relatives, my offer still stands. Adopt me and I’ll stand on my hind legs, jump through hoops, fetch sticks, play with a ball of yarn, chase mice or purr in your ear. Whatever it takes.

Hoyt Harwell is retired after 42 years with The Associated Press, the final 26 as the correspondent in charge of the AP’s north Alabama bureau based in Birmingham. He lives in Hoover, where he doesn’t even own a goldfish to share in his inheritance.
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