“This is a truly representative cross-section of animal rescue charities that can litigate this important issue,” said William R. Hess, a lawyer for D.E.L.T.A. Rescue, the largest animal sanctuary of its type in the world. The animal welfare organization links arms with three other powerful animal groups in a collaborative effort to help Leona Helmsley speak from the grave on Monday and finally expose where the late baroness really wanted her staggering $5 billion dollars to go.
“D.E.L.T.A. Rescue, like other charities, receives a substantial part of its annual contributions from wills and trusts,” said Hess. “It’s also important for persons to understand the consequence of being clear in their intent and avoiding the influence of persons who will not honor their intent after they die.”
Last April, the trustees chose to give away $136 million to homeless humans and select human hospitals and human foundations. Disbursements totaling $900,000 went to designated groups that train seeing-eye dogs, a service which D.E.L.T.A. Rescue regards as being an “exploitative” accommodation that is not recognized legally as one that enhances the quality of life for animals; it tends to the needs of humans. The ASPCA received only $100,000 for its nationwide animal welfare mission. Hess charges that this was not exactly what Helmsley had in mind before she died in 2007.
Hess said Helmsley’s initial mission statement listed just two priorities: that her money help provide medical and health care for impoverished youth and that it help address animal-related needs. Helmsley then executed another mission statement for her Charity Trust that actually omitted the reference of medical and health care services. Indicating her apparent love for animals, Helmsley left her beloved Maltese a healthy $12 million trust fund. Her pet lost $10 million of its inheritance.
If the court agrees to get to the bottom of Helmsley’s true intent and whether the trustees of her estate have exercised lawful authority, the trustees’ ability to scatter further grants could be restricted during court proceedings, Hess said. He added that his sole purpose in seeking judicial action is to see if the trustees have, in fact, failed to rightfully disburse Helmsley’s money to animal charities.
“Every year, the Helmsley Charitable Trust is required to make distributions, around five percent of five billion dollars,” explained Hess. D.E.L.T.A. Rescue provides urgent and wellness care for more than 1,500 previously abandoned and abused animals. It also runs Horse Rescue of America and two state-of-the-art veterinary hospitals at its Los Angeles-area mountaintop refuge.
D.E.L.T.A. Rescue founder and president Leo Grillo said an overturn of Judge K. Webber’s ruling will have significant impact on those organizations dedicated to the rescue, welfare and general care of innocent animals. Grillo considers his involvement a conglomerative one.
“In doing this, we represent all animal groups,” said Grillo. “If every animal welfare group were able to benefit from a fair share of this five billion dollar fund, all animals could be spayed and neutered and we could end the pet overpopulation problem and close all pounds.”
Grillo’s confidence regarding temporary animal shelters stems directly from an independent study based on published data. Grillo believes that a $500 million endowment would be enough to shut down all the pounds in America where animals are exterminated mainly due to overcrowded conditions.
Hess said he will also be contesting whether Helmsley’s trustees have the legal right to substitute her wishes with their personal judgments.
On their Web site, the trustees claim that Helmsley did not intend for her fortune to go to dogs. “This is their position,” argued Hess. “But there are documents, such as her signed mission statement, that clearly indicate otherwise.”
Hess says the outcome of the litigation could change the future outlook for a countless number of animal charities, large and small alike. Grillo contends that many groups may be able to obtain the money to “save the lives of animals they would not otherwise be able to save,” he explained. “Second, it is important to set a legal precedent regarding the way in which persons write their wills and trusts to guarantee that their intended beneficiaries, like D.E.L.T.A. Rescue, end up receiving the gifts intended for them,” Hess stated.
“We only want to do what we can to make sure that Helmsley’s true intent to benefit the dogs is honored,” added Grillo, who tracks through unkind forests and up slippery ocean jetties to rescue unwanted and starving pets. D.E.L.T.A. Rescue has been an IRS-recognized not-for-profit animal welfare organization since 1981.