BOSTON (TheStreet) -- When she died in 2007, hotel mogul Leona Helmsley named a fluffy, white Maltese dog as her most rewarded heir.
Even as she cut two grandchildren from her will, the dog, named Trouble, was slated to get $12 million until a judge intervened and reduced the pup's inheritance to $2 million -- still more than enough for luxury accommodations at the Helmsley Sandcastle hotel in Sarasota, Fla., and an around-the-clock security team necessitated by dozens of dognapping threats. When Trouble passed away in June of this year at the age of 12, the remainder of the inheritance shifted to the Helmsley Charitable Trust.
It isn't just crazy cat ladies and multimillionaire celebrities who leave an inheritance for their pets.
Other famous animal lovers have made plans to make their pets wealthy and luxuriously cared for. According to
, Oprah Winfrey has reportedly established a $30 million trust fund to care for her dogs and other assorted pets. Actress Betty White did the same with a $5 million fund. The late Michael Jackson left his infamous pet chimp, Bubbles, currently residing at a Florida animal sanctuary, $1 million.
It isn't just the rich and famous who make financial and legal moves to make sure Rover, Fluffy and Snowball are cared for after they pass on.
John O. McManus, founding principal of
, a trusts and estates law firm in New York and New Jersey, says he often sees large sums reserved for grooming, health care and food choices "to ensure that the structure of high-quality care is in place for the pet."
The first step for a someone making such plans, even before money issues are discussed, is to establish a point person for carrying out post-death pet care requests.
"They need to choose someone who is going to serve in that position, someone they know is a pet lover and will treat their pet as though it were their own," he says of his clients. "It is not dramatically dissimilar to when someone goes away on vacation for a week. With whom did they leave the pet?"
"It's very common to see parents with young children create pet guardians, because like their children, pets are members of the family," he adds. "Typically the pet guardians are the same guardians as the children guardians, since they never want to separate the children from the pet."
The child/pet connection is often very strong, McManus says. "There are sometimes relationships where the pet comes before he children," he says. "Sometimes, instead of having one more child a couple will get a pet instead. For many people their pets -- cats, dogs or whatever -- are their children."
A more common scenario is for older people, who either never had children or whose kids are grown, who want to ensure quality care for their late-in-life companion.
There best route is to establish a trust to make sure a cherished pet gets "the best food, regular grooming and a top veterinarian," McManus says, adding that the execution of these tasks, and managing the assets, may exceed the role and capabilities of a traditional pet guardian and require a separate trustee.
The challenge is that there is no way to know for sure of pet needs and expenses, especially if there is a major illness. There also needs to be a plan in place for when the pet dies.
There are several options. One is to overfund a trust based on realistic estimates and "when the pet dies any surplus is given to the pet guardian to reward their service or a family member," McManus says.
Another route, for wealthier people, is to establish a charitable foundation in the pet owner's name that could make gifts and also donate directly to animal-related charities. Unused money from a pet's trust could be routed into such a foundation, perhaps even in the name of the pet itself.
Burial arrangements are also top-of-mind for many animal lovers.
"Today, pets are not allowed to be buried in the classic sense of a human cemetery plot as they were in ancient times, hence creative measures such as pet cremation and inserting the pet's remains in the casket with other memories is preferable," McManus says.
"One thing that is often overlooked, particularly for an elderly person, is what happens if you become incapacitated," he adds. "You want to make sure your power of attorney steps in to provide direction as to how the pet should be cared for. All of the first-class amenities are often not included. It is worth bringing up the topic
and having a plan in place until you recover."
One other potential snag is the hurt feelings of relatives who cannot appreciate money being earmarked for a pet.
"Where an objection would arise is when a relative comes out of the woodwork later on and say, 'What's this all about, this was my Aunt Millie and that's my money.' Well, the answer is you haven't seen Aunt Millie in 20 years and her pet was with her through it all, that's why you didn't get anything," McManus says.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
>To contact the writer of this article, click here: