Celebrity Estate Lessons – Leona Helmsley

Leona Helmsley

Do you love your pet? I mean we all do, right? But do we love our pets quite as much as Leona Helmsley? Even if you do, it would be hard to prove it.

Leona Helmsley was a hotel baroness and real estate mogul who rose to fame in the 1980s. If you're wondering how big she was, she and her husband bought the Empire State Building. Yes, that Empire State Building.

She was cruel and some might say even heartless. Shortly after her son died, she served eviction papers to his grieving widow and children who were living in one of her properties. She became known as the 'Queen of Mean', accepting nothing less than perfection from her employees and routinely insulting them before they were fired.

This caught up to her in 1983 when she and her husband were arrested for tax-evasion after claiming $8 million of upgrades to their already lavish mansion as business expenses. During testimony, a former housekeeper testified that Helmsley stated, "Only the little people pay taxes." She was also charged with defrauding shareholders when it was discovered that a variety of personal items were claimed as expenses (such as a lace and satin dress labelled as staff uniforms). Her husband was deemed too mentally incompetent due to illness to stand trial, but Leona went to prison for a whopping 21 months.

Her husband died in 1997, leaving an estate over $5 billion dollars. She had to separate herself from properties (felons can't hold liquor licenses and who wants to stay in a dry hotel?) but her estate was still large.

It might not surprise you to learn that Helmsley wasn't close to many people when she finally died in 2007. So what to do with all that money? Some was given to charity, some to her grandchildren, and $12 million was left in a trust for her dog, Trouble. This was originally supposed to be $18 million, but a judge took $6 million away from the dog to give to two grandchildren who were not included in the Will.

Sadly, Trouble was only the third wealthiest dog in the world at the time, but I'm sure he made the most of his inheritance over his remaining 4 years. When he passed in 2011 his remaining estate went to charity.

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