Thursday, October 09, 2008

Giving Money to Dogs

Much has already been written about Leona Helmsley's decision to leave $12 million to her dog, and I didn't see much need to jump into the fray. But I was on a business trip this week which gave me a chance to catch up on some out of date New Yorker magazines, and I had to quote this passage from an article ("Rich Bitch", by Jeffrey Toobin) about the legal issues surrounding bequests to animals:

One philosopher [Jeff McMahan, who teaches philosophy at Rutgers] draws a distinction between the needs of [Helmsley's dog] Trouble and those of dogs as a whole.... "To give even two million dollars to a single little dog is like setting the money on fire in front of a group of poor people. To bestow that amount of money is contemptuous of the poor, and that may be one reason [Helmsley] did it.

"But to give such a large sum of money to dogs generally is not frivolous," McMahan went on. "I think it shows some misplaced priorities, but many bequests do. In a world where there is starvation and poverty, you can say that it's wrong to give money to universities, or musuems, or, worst of all, to divide it up for your children and heirs who are already rich. Welfare for dogs is better than more pampering of the rich. It may indicate misplaced moral priorites, but it 's not frivolous or silly...."

Do you agree?

16 comments:

DogAteMyFinances said...

Eh, I think you could make that argument if she had left that money to a single person. The dog did just as much to earn that money as a child or any other heir.

No single person (or dog) needs $12M, but people (dogs) in general need $12M.

At least the dog's trustee won't be able to spend all that cash (I hope!) and it will then go to charity, I believe.

Colin said...

That is an interesting proposition, I wonder if this is a way around inheritance tax. Do the current laws include dogs? Obviously a dog isn't going to do anything with money, but the overseer of that dog can right? I guess it ensures that the dog will be taken care of in the event of Leona's death. Trouble could live to be past 15, her dog would be taken care of.

Interesting idea, but the article specifically mentions that she wanted to give that money to the dogs. I guess 12M is only a drop in the bucket of 8B - but good for her for being a bit generous.

Miss M said...

$12 mil is obviously a ridiculous sum but I don't object to people willing money to their pets. If the pet outlives them it's nice to know the owner has thought about their care. So many dogs get dumped when the owner dies cause family doesn't want to take them in, that might change if Fluffy had a fund set aside to cover their expenses. And some pets you really have to make a provision for in your will, I think sulcata tortoises are cool but they can live to 200!

Elizabeth said...

"Welfare for dogs is better than more pampering of the rich."

I guess I agree with this statement though I would put the welfare of suffering human above that of dogs.

Funny that you should bring up this article -- I just read it myself earlier this week because I, too, am trying to catch up on back issues.

Interestingly, Helmsley's original will had included charity to people as well as dogs though that bequest was cut out of the will a few years before she died.

Gord said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gord said...

Perhaps Leona saw that bumper sticker, "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog," and took it to heart.

I think the whole point has being missed. We could all argue that the money should have gone to this charity or that where it is needed to save lives etc, but the fact is, or at least should be, that it was her money and she has every right to give it to whomever or whatever she wants. Sure, it's misguided but it is her wishes that must be respected. If we don't respect it, maybe our wishes won't be either.

It's disheartening to see so may "wills" being contested by family and friends who thought they had been unfairly treated by the dearly departed. Maybe they don't give it to family because of something that happened in the past that is not explained in the will. I don't want to give my estate to someone who will spend it frivolously; who's made one error in judgement after another. They don't deserve it. I want it to go where it will do some good, and I don't want it changed after I am dead and I don't have the opportunity to refute the claims being made.

Taisha said...

"Welfare for dogs is better than more pampering of the rich."

A human being can have a change of heart, deciding after all to give and live responsibly...a vastly unlikely possibility for a dog.

Chad @ Sentient Money said...

I don't care if it's her will or not. This is ridiculous and shows how useless she was to society, in life and death.

I by no means advocate giving to charities, as most are just completely useless. But, there are some legit organizations. The Gates Foundation being one of them.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I often agree with McMahn -- and I agree here as well.

The fact of the matter is that people have and will continue to do terrible things to animals. Animals have no control over the circumstances in which they find themselves -- and, while I think giving the money to people in need would have been a morally superior choice - giving it to help animals in need is better than giving it all to one animal.

Gord said...

Time to check the facts according to the Times. The estate is worth 4 Billion. The dog in question was left to her brother and a trust to take care of the dog was set up in the amount of 12 million. It also said Leona had given 35 Million to charitable causes in her last years. I guess she wasn't all that useless, Chad.

Anonymous said...

woof woof! give me some money.

Anonymous said...

I certainly feel my dogs are far more deserving of my money and the care/security it will bring them should something happen to me than most people I've encountered in my years walking the planet.

Moreover, it is no one's business, but my own, what I choose to do with my hard earned wealth.

Anonymous said...

I love my cats. I'm leaving my money to my cats. If I don't leave any money to them then nobody will take care of them after I'm gone.

Stephen

Anonymous said...

I love my cat too- despite only being 30, I have organised a home for him if anything happens. My friend has a will which leaves her money to her dog for the term of the dog's life- then it goes to her three nieces. As for charity for animals- I'll give it to them before people until people stop demolishing their homes and abusing and torturing them.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, in a few years our own government will have grown so large that they will have the ability to say that money should be used for the good of the nation or whomever they're feeling particularly warm to that day. Or, they're create a loophole that says money left to pets will be taxed at 99%, which effectively does the same thing.

Hopefully whomever wins the election will realize that our govt is too large as it is and help create smaller, more efficient govt. Unfortunately, one guy is too old to make a difference no matter what he says he'll do and the other is but a pretty face who wants more govt intervention. Oh well.

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