With this year’s Fashion’s Night Out just days away, I can’t help but think of Alexander McQueen, whose tragic suicide last year deprived the fashion world of one of its greatest talents. McQueen had no children, but made sure his dogs were well taken care of by leaving over $80,000 in his will for the care of Juice, Callum, and Minter. (Nope, I didn’t make up those names.) McQueen also left money to his housekeepers, siblings, nieces and nephews, and charities (including two animal welfare charities — McQueen was clearly an animal lover).
But Alexander McQueen is hardly the first high-profile figure to decide that nothing says “I love you, Fido” like a massive trust fund. And, in most of the United States, the law is specifically equipped to make sure that these pampered pups are taken care of long after their owners have gone to that great dog park in the sky.
Perhaps the world’s most famous dog trust was formed by real estate magnate Leona Helmsley, who, in 2007, famously left $12 million — nope, I didn’t make that number up either, that’s $12 million as in T-W-E-L-V-E — to her Maltese, “Trouble.” (And Leona left two of her grandchildren out of her will altogether. I’m guessing that if those grandkids were ever dog lovers, they aren’t anymore.) A New York judge — evidently standing up for bipeds everywhere — later busted the trust down to $2 million, sending $6 million of the savings to the disinherited grandkids. (Poor Trouble! I’m guessing that if he ever liked those grandkids, he didn’t anymore.) Of course, that $2 million was still more than enough to cover Trouble’s reported $190,000 per year of expenses (which, if you’re wondering, includes a chauffeured stretch limo, a castle in Sarasota, $1,200 worth of artisanal dog food a year, $8,000 worth of grooming, and full-time security guard, because a dog that rich gets death threats). Helmsley reportedly believed that her husband Harry, who died in 1997, communicated with her through Trouble, so she wanted to make sure the dog was well cared for (which is kind of sweet once you get past the incredible weirdness of it).
Alsatian Gunther IV inherited $372 million from his father, Gunther III, who had inherited $106 million from German Countess Carlotta Libenstein (and then apparently invested it very wisely). Gunther owns several homes, including Madonna’s former mansion and he dines daily on caviar and steak. Poodle Toby Rimes inherited $80 million from Ella Wendel. Drew Barrymore placed her $3 million Beverly Hills home in trust for her lab Flossie. Kalu the Chimpanzee inherited $70 million from famed swimmer Frank O’Neill. Oprah Winfrey has a $50 million trust set up for her pups, and publishing mogul Miles Blackwell left $15 million to his pet chicken, Gigoo the Hen. I could keep going with this list, but now I stopped to check my own bank account and I’m too depressed to go on.
Some people scoff at these trusts, viewing them as a waste of resources that could serve some greater good. Others believe that a person’s will should be respected, no matter how wacky it may seem to people who can’t understand why a dog should dine on caviar while they’re lucky to get some Chicken McNuggets. But what does the law have to say about those who want to put their considerable resources into setting up their pups (and maybe even their pups’ pups) for life?
Not to steal Apple’s shtick, but: there’s a law for that.
Californian dog lovers can rest easy thanks to the California Pet Trust Bill. Before the California Pet Trust Bill was passed, people could only leave money to their pets through charitable trusts (trusts that can only be used for charitable purposes such as feeding the hungry and promoting education) or non-charitable trusts (which require at least one human beneficiary). However, these trusts violated the Rule Against Perpetuities, a rule which has probably just set off nightmare law school flashbacks for every lawyer in the reading audience. (Note to Non-Lawyers: all you need to know about this rule is that it is so complicated and awful that lawyers cannot be held liable for legal malpractice if they screw it up.) Basically, pet trusts were not legally enforceable.
The California Pet Trust Bill presumes that an animal care trust is valid and legally enforceable. A court can appoint a trustee if the trust does not appoint one. More importantly, the trustee cannot use the assets or income for anything besides the care of the animal. If the money in the trust is not used properly, the court can be petitioned to enforce the trust by anyone interested in the welfare of the animal or by a nonprofit group devoted to animal care. Over 40 states have passed similar laws.
So if you live in one of those 40 states and want to make sure your best friend is taken care of, you’re in luck. And next time you walk by an adorable puppy, remember, that pup might be a millionaire.