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Probate Wars of the Rich and Famous: An Insider's Guide to Estate Planning and Probate Litigation by Russell J. Fishkind

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CHAPTER 4

The Benevolent Queen of Mean

When billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley died on August 7, 2007, at the age of 87, there were no prayer vigils outside her hotels nor did the masses tearfully gather in her sendoff. Instead, both big people and little people alike read the headlines trumpeting the death of the Wicked Witch. The reflections and remembrances all seemed to vilify the “Queen of Mean,” and recounted her tyrannical behavior, her mistreatment of employees, and her stint in jail for tax fraud. Once her last will and testament was made public, her dog, Trouble, captured the headlines.

But lost in the media blitz was an enormous act of goodwill. Leona gave back, in mammoth proportions, to charitable causes that will likely fund hospitals, health-care providers, museums, schools, medical research, and yes, provide for the care of animals, in perpetuity. Such largess didn’t grab the headlines. Were such acts of benevolence an attempt to curry favor with our Maker, or to spite individuals who wouldn’t inherit the mother lode? Did she only seek to reduce her estate tax liability or was she truly philanthropic? Only Leona knew. But if homeless families have shelter, cures for diseases are discovered, lands are preserved, animals cared for, and the hungry fed-in part from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Foundation, then we must give the devil her due.

Daughter of a hat maker and high school dropout, Leona Mindy Rosenthal Roberts Panzirer Lubin Helmsley started at the ...

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