Helmsley Trust Awards $136-Million in Its First Round of Grants; Little for Dogs
By Maria Di Mento
April 21, 2009
The trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
announced today that they are awarding a total of $136-million in
the foundation's first round of grants.
The announcement is significant not only because of the large amount,
but because only $1-million is going to support dogs and other animals,
which goes against Ms. Helmsley's wishes that the bulk of her estate
be directed to the care and welfare of dogs.
Of the 54 grants announced, one-year donations of $100,000 apiece
are going to benefit nine canine groups, and one group that benefits all
In February, a New York judge ruled that the trustees did not have to
limit the distribution of their grants to charities focused on the care
and welfare of dogs, a wish Ms. Helmsley, who died in 2007, stated
in a mission statement she signed in 2004. In that document, Ms.
Helmsley stated that she wanted the bulk of her estate —worth an
estimated $5.2-billion—to go toward the care and welfare of dogs.
When her estate is settled, the foundation she created is widely expected
to become one of the biggest foundations in the United States.
That mission statement revoked a previous document she signed in 2003
that said she wanted her foundation not only to benefit dogs, but also
to support "medical and health-care services for indigent people with
emphasis on providing care to children."
But the judge, Troy K. Webber, found that the document that originally
established the charitable trust does not require that the trustees refer
to the mission statement, and that it grants them "sole discretion" to
give money to any charity they choose.
Mr. Webber wrote in his decision that the trust document, "makes clear
that the trustees discretion to apply trust funds for charitable purposes
is not limited by any mission statement."
That ruling may have set a precedent for charitable bequests since it
raised questions about how closely trustees of estates are legally bound
to distribute donors' bequests to the causes they designated.The bulk of
the $136-million is going toward conservation, education, health and
medical research, and human services. The three largest grants include
$40-million to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical
Center for a center for digestive diseases; $25-million to Mount Sinai
Medical Center for a center for electrophysiology; and $10-million to
Mount Sinai School of Medicine for an inflammatory bowel disease
center. All three institutions are in New York.
Criticism From Animal Groups
The trustees' decision to give only $1-million to animal groups in this
first round of grants has caused dismay among some animal charity
leaders. Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United
States called the amount "trifling" and said it was inconsistent with Ms.
Helmsley's stated charitable intentions.
"These resources could do tremendous good, as Mrs. Helmsley wanted,
in promoting shelter adoption and spay-and-neuter programs, stopping
puppy mills and dogfighting, and other programs to help dogs. We've
been in touch with interested parties and hope for a constructive
resolution," said Mr. Pacelle in a written statement.
But the trustees see their decision differently.
"We are continuing the philanthropic legacy of Mr. and Ms. Helmsley.
Throughout their lives, the Helmsleys were committed to helping others
through the innovations of medical research, responding to those in
need during critical times, and in other areas. We now have the privilege
of continuing their good works by providing support where it will make
a difference," said the trustees in a news release.
The five trustees are John Codey, an adviser to Ms. Helmsley; Sandor
Frankel, her lawyer; David Panzirer and Walter Panzirer, two of Ms.
Helmsley's grandchldren; and Alvin Rosenthal, Ms. Helmsley's brother
Until today, all five have been silent for more than a year about their
intentions for the foundation. Ms. Helmsley's estate is still being settled,
but given the financial crisis it could be worth much less than it was
when she died. For example, her estate is still in the process of selling
off some of her property including her Greenwich, Conn., mansion. The
40-acre property was originally listed at $125-million over a year ago,
but has since been cut by 40 percent. It is now listed at $75-million.
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Note: Of the nine canine groups receiving $100,000 apiece,
8 are groups that use dogs to help people.