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February 1, 2016

Recent news accounts have informed us that Leona Helmsley, “the Queen of Mean,” died as she lived. She left a $12,000,000 trust for her pet dog, “Trouble,” while disinheriting at least two of her grandchildren. Ms. Helmsley was, fortunately for Trouble, not an Illinois resident.

While Illinois has a “Pet Trust Act” which I drafted, and which was passed in 2004, the act contains a section seeking to rein in the excesses of pet owners by providing, “The court may reduce the amount of the property transferred if it determines that the amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use. The amount of the reduction, if any, passes as unexpended trust property….” I believe it would be difficult indeed for an Illinois judge to hold that $12,000,000 is “required” for the intended use – caring for Trouble for the remainder of his life, even with the best of care.

So what would happen to the excess funds left in trust for Trouble under Illinois law? There are three possible answers: (1) If the trust instrument itself provides for what happens to excess funds, that provision would control or (2) if it does not, the excess funds would pass to the “residuary” or ultimate taker under Ms. Helmsley’s will or (c) if there is no ultimate taker eligible under her will, the excess funds would pass to her heirs at law, possibly even the two grandchildren she has chosen to disinherit.

If you would like to discuss a possible trust for a companion animal under Illinois law, please feel free to email me, or contact your Di Monte & Lizak, LLC attorney.