“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.”
Hess said he has already served D.E.L.T.A. Rescue's motion to join a strengthening litigation that challenges whether the trustees of Leona Helmsley's estate had lawful authority to possibly disregard the deathbed wishes of the real estate mogul whose oppressive behavior in life earned her the human moniker “Queen of Mean.”
If animal welfare groups are victorious, Helmsley might be crowned “Savior of the Animals,” a more honorable distinction and legacy.
Hess said his client's motion will be filed in the New York Surrogate's Court in Manhattan before Monday's scheduled hearing.
The four main groups -- D.E.L.T.A. Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Maddie's Fund -- all want to throw out Judge Troy K. Webber's ruling that gave the trustees for the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust the right to choose which not-for-profit groups would benefit from her near $5 billion estate.
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”
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-
D.E.L.T.A. Rescue founder and president Leo Grillo said an overturn of Judge 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.
Grillo is an actor and animal welfare activist who has dedicated the past thirty years of his life to rescuing pets abandoned in the wild. His mission further entails stopping the cruel human practice of discarding those animals in forests and throughout many other areas of the country.
Hess said he will also be contesting whether Helmsley's trustees have the legal right to substitute her wishes with their personal judgments.
Helmsley's trustees include her brother, her two grandsons, one of her friends and her lawyer. Hess and D.E.L.T.A. Rescue say they will also argue that constitutional rights were violated in part “because the trustees deprived [other animal groups] an opportunity to establish their interests in the Helmsley Trust,” he said.
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.
“[This] is a huge legal issue for the charitable-giving community,” said Hess. Added Grillo: “And D.E.L.T.A. Rescue is here to represent the silent ones...the animals.”
D.E.L.T.A. Rescue is a No-Kill, Care-for-Life sanctuary located northeast of Los Angeles, CA.