Leona Helmsley's Little Rich Dog Trouble Dies in Luxury

Wealthy hotel heir left Maltese $12 million, ignoring her family in will.

June 10, 2011, 9:29 AM

June 10, 2011— -- The richest lapdog in the world -- a little white Maltese named Trouble -- died at the age of 12 in her final days in luxury, every need tended to around the clock, in Sarasota, Fla.

Trouble owed her coddled lifestyle to her former owner, New York Hotel heiress Leona Helmsley, who died in 2007 and turned her back on relatives to bequeath the bulk of her estate, $12 million, to her dog.

Helmsley bought the beloved pet for comfort after the death of her husband, billionaire hotelier Harry Helmsley.

A judge later knocked down the dog's inheritance to $2 million. Though the pooch died in December, news of her demise was only reported this week.

The pampered pooch had led a life of luxury after her owner purchased her at a New York City pet shop and chauffeured her around in a stretch limo.

In death, Helmsley earned her nickname, the "Queen of Mean," cutting off her grandchildren and leaving a trust fund to the cherished pet.

Helmsley served 18 months in federal prison on tax evasion charges in the early 1990s.

But she did leave millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal. He was initially responsible for caring for Trouble. The other two grandchildren were spared her final wrath and left $5 million each, provided they visit their father's grave at least once a year.

But when her brother refused to care for the dog after Helmsley's death, Trouble was flown by private jet to Florida.

The will also stipulated that when the Maltese went to the big kennel in the sky, she would lie beside her in the 12,000-square-foot Helmsley family mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Westchester County, N.Y.

The dirt-hating Helmsley ordered that the mausoleum be "washed or steam-cleaned at least once a year," for which she left $3 million.

Click here for weird wills.

Trouble lived the equivalent of 84 human years and was tended to around the clock at the Helmsley Sandcastle hotel in Sarasota.

The dog was blind and stricken with health issues before her death. Her caretaker, Carl Lekic spent $100,000 annually on her care -- including $8,000 for grooming and $1,200 for dog food.

Trouble, who had faced 20 to 30 death and kidnapping threats, also retained a full-time security guard, according to news reports.

Her cremated remains will be "privately retained," spokeswoman Eileen Sullivan told the New York Daily News.

Funds held in the dog's trust will revert to the Helmsley family trust, which supports charities, she said.

Probate lawyers say the will is a person's last chance to seek revenge or reward the living, even if that means a beloved pet. Stories abound of monied eccentrics who speak from the great beyond with their will.

At her death at 105 in 2007, the philanthropic Brooke Astor left $250,000 to the Animal Medical Center in New York City -- specifically for the veterinary care of the pets of poor and old people.

A Will is Last Chance to Settle Scores

"Most states really try to honor whatever you put in your will," said Elizabeth Schwartz, a Florida lawyer who focuses on probate. "People see this as their final 'screw you' or 'I love you.'

"I always tell people, 'Do what you want to do,'" she said.

According to the popular "People's Book of Lists," a Londoner willed his fortune to his sons "on the strict condition that they would not inherit the legacy if they became members of Parliament or undertook any form of public office, speculate on stock exchange, convert to any other religion or even marry outside the Jewish faith."

Consider these other quirky one-liners that have surfaced in the last will and testament:

"To my son, I leave the pleasure of earning a living, which he had not done in 35 years."

"To my daughter, I leave $1,000. She will need it. The only good piece of business her husband ever did was to marry her."

"To my valet I leave the clothes he has been stealing from me regularly for the past 10 years. Also my fur coat that he wore last winter when I was in Palm Beach."

"To my chauffeur, I leave my cars. He almost ruined them and I want him to have the satisfaction of finishing the job."

"To my wife: She has been troubled with one old fool, she should not think of marrying a second."

Often, said Schwartz, the dying are hesitant to spell out their rancor in their wills, for fear there will be a dramatic reading and embarrass them.

"You're going to be dead," she said, "so don't let the guilt drive you."

Other dogs have had their day in wills. In 2000, Gunther IV, a German shepherd who was passed a fortune inherited by his father, Gunther III, bought a home in Florida, according to Slate.com.

The first Gunther was the sole inheritor of the estate of Countess Carlotta Liebenstein in 1992.

This was no sleeping crate -- the 8,432-square-foot waterfront mansion once belonged to Madonna. His press handlers said at the time the $150 million price tag was burning a hole in his bank account.

The "moneyed mutt" also owns several homes in Italy and the Bahamas and put down a bid on Sylvester Stallone's mansion, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

An estimated 80 percent of Americans do not have wills, according to Schwartz. Wills are challenged only about 10 percent of the time and there is usually a "high burden of proof" if someone feels slighted, she said.

Beware, too, the "chatty will," say probate attorneys.

"You always want to make the will as challenge-less as possible," said Schwartz. "If there is a situation where there's a sister you want to cut out of your will, don't say, 'I don't want to provide for her because she slept with my high school boyfriend.'"

"The sister can challenge that and say she was misinformed to the facts," she said.

Better to use an old-school line to stiff a relative: "I do not provide to her for reasons that are known to her."