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Published: Saturday, 6/21/2008

A test of will

WHEN New York hotel magnate Leona Helmsley died last August, few tears were shed in the exclusive parts of Gotham. A billionaire because of her third marriage to late real-estate investor Harry Helmsley, she was considered gauche and a "meany" by Manhattan's polite society. She once bragged that only the "little people" paid taxes. When she was convicted of tax evasion, she got 18 months in federal prison to reconsider the wisdom of her quip.

Although the tabloids got it right when they dubbed her "the Queen of Mean" 20 years ago, even they were shocked by the contents of her will. Mrs. Helmsley, who had begun rehabilitating her lousy reputation by donating generously to 9/11 charities, bequeathed $12 million to Trouble, her 9-year-old white Maltese, with instructions that the dog be able to live the remainder of her life in luxury.

To her grandchildren Craig Panzirer, 40, and Meegan Panzirer Wesolko, 37, Mrs. Helmsley left a cryptic message that she had cut them out of the will "for reasons which are known to them." The brother and sister challenged the will, arguing that their grandmother wasn't mentally competent when she signed it in 2005. Earlier this year, they and the executors of the estate struck a deal to avoid a court fight.The grandchildren received $6 million plus legal fees in exchange for dropping their challenge.

Meanwhile, Trouble's caretaker, the general manager of a Helmsley hotel in Florida, said in an affidavit that $2 million would do just fine. With the canine's annual expenses calculated at a cool $190,000, Trouble isn't about to complain. She may be living a dog's life, but it's pretty good by the standards of most people. That's how the Queen of Mean would have wanted it.

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