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More People Leaving Money to Their Pets

"As a nation, we still euthanize 4 to 6 million cats and dogs every year, and a good number of those are pets left without care when their owners die," she said.

Pet owners of moderate means can ensure some stability for their animals by including a few lines in their will spelling out who gets the family dog, said Kim Bressant-Kibwe, associate counsel of trusts and estates for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"Maybe it's a situation where a person only has $500 or $1,000 to leave for a pet's care, and that's fine," Bressant-Kibwe said. "What we want people to think about is making arrangements."

The specifics of Helmsley's gift to Trouble are spelled out in private trust documents and aren't publicly known. Her will says only that the dog will be cared for by her brother, and that when it dies, its remains will be buried next to her own in a lavish family mausoleum.

Hirschfeld, who was also a longtime acquaintance of Helmsley's, said that even given the hotelier's famous penchant for fine living, the trust's size is startling.

"Twelve million is outrageous. Come on! Let's get real!" she said. "If someone had come to me and said, 'I want to leave 12 million bucks, I'd say, 'why?'"

One possible reason, she speculated, is that money left over after the dog's demise might ultimately be destined for animal-welfare charities.

A strongly written trust, she said, could likely protect the dog's gift from becoming the subject of a court fight.

New York state law allows a court to reduce bequests to pets if a judge finds they are more than needed for the animal's care, and there is always the possibility that disappointed relatives might be waiting in the wings to argue that the dog got too much.

Helmsley, a hotel and real estate magnate who died Aug. 20 at age 87, decreed that the vast bulk of her multibillion-dollar estate would go to charity, not to her family, although she made individual gifts of $5 million to $10 million to several relatives.

She also expressly stiffed two grandchildren with whom she had feuded, saying in her will that they would get nothing, "for reasons that are known to them."

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© 2007 The Associated Press