When Leona Helmsley, the notorious hotel and real estate owner, and millionaire, died in 2007, one of the stipulations of her will was the establishment of 12 million US Dollar (USD) trust for the care of her Maltese dog, Trouble. Lots of people commented after hearing her will that it wouldn’t have been a bad day to be a dog. In particular, her two children who were cut out of her will may have felt the sting of inheriting nothing from her, while a dog sat pretty on an exorbitant honorary trust.
An honorary trust is a fund established, usually in a will, for a non-human or non-corporate entity. In most cases, people establish an honorary trust for a surviving pet or for the purpose of erecting a monument. There are limits as to where and when you can establish an honorary trust, and not all states accept these trusts as legal. As the death of Helmsley implies, clearly New York accepts certain honorary trusts, and people may have a difficult time trying to contest a will with trusts of this nature.
If the case exists that the trust is established in a state where it is illegal, the money reverts back to the original estate. Others who benefit from the will may then inherit more money, or relatives of the deceased person might contest the will. Further, an honorary trust meant to establish a monument can be ignored.
If a person wants a monument erected to himself or herself on city or state owned land, the city or state is under no obligation to act on this wish. The only reason they might be motivated to do so is if there is a financial incentive. For example, a will might set aside an honorary trust for the purpose of erecting a monument, and leave money to the local or regional government only if it follows through with the person’s wishes.
The honorary trustee is a person established to see that the wishes of the deceased are carried out with respect to the honorary trust. If the money set aside in trust is to care for a pet or pets, the honorary trustee might provide that care or would appoint someone to do so, and keep tabs on them to make certain that the trust was being honored in the manner stipulated. If a person were an honorary trustee for establishing a monument, he or she would work with city or regional officials to attempt to honor the person’s wishes.