Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

US fortune 'not solely for dogs'

Late New York billionaire Leona Helmsley with her dog Trouble
A judge reduced the $12m Leona Helmsley left to her dog Trouble

The fortune left by late real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley can go to charities other than those solely related to dogs, a US court has ruled.

A New York City judge said that Helmsley's legal documents allowed her estate's trustees "sole discretion" in donating the money to charity.

When Helmsley died in 2007 it was widely reported that she wanted her $8bn fortune spent only on canines.

She was dubbed the "Queen of Mean" during a trial in 1989 for tax evasion.

Manhattan probate court judge Troy Webber ruled that Helmsley's legal documents allowed the trustees to "apply trust funds for such charitable purposes and in such amounts as they may, in their sole discretion, determine".

The spokesman for the trustees said that they would announce the first grants in March.

"In the hope that this would be the court's decision, the trustees have been diligently working to identify potential grantees so the trust's funds would be put to optimal use as soon as possible in such areas as health care, medical research, human services, education and various other areas," Howard Rubenstein said.

Animal rights groups had reacted gleefully at the reports last year that all of Helmsley's fortune would go to the care of dogs.

Charities had said the money could be used to rescue dogs from disaster zones and to tackle dog fighting, rabies in China and India as well as the canine over-population problem.

It is not clear now if any dog-welfare organisations will receive any of the funds.

Helmsley also left $12m to her pet dog, Trouble, while explicitly leaving out two of her grandchildren.

A Manhattan judge later reduced the trust fund for the nine-year-old Maltese to $2m and the grandchildren received $6m each.

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