Courts - Florida Estate battle features $3M for pet Chihuahuas

By Curt Anderson

and Tony Winton

Associated Press Writers

MIAMI (AP) -- Conchita, Lucia and April Marie are used to a luxurious life in an island mansion. With a $3 million trust fund from the will of an heiress, they'll never have to worry about a thing. What sets the three apart is that they're Chihuahuas.

The three little dogs are part of a bitter battle over the estate of Gail Posner, daughter of late corporate raider Victor Posner. Gail Posner's only surviving child, 46-year-old Bret Carr, is challenging her will in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, contending she was coerced into changing it by several employees while suffering from cancer and drug addiction.

Carr was awarded only income from a $1 million fund in his mother's will. But employees including maids, a personal trainer and bodyguards received $27 million, according to court documents. Some of them, including a caretaker of the pampered pooches, are being allowed to live in the $8.3 million, seven-bedroom Sunset Island mansion with the Chihuahuas.

Carr's attorney Bruce Katzen contends Victor Posner, who died in 2002, set aside a fortune in 1965 that he says is now worth up to $100 million in irrevocable trust accounts for his grandchildren, including Carr. Without telling Carr, Gail Posner made changes before she died March 19, at age 67, that virtually cut him out, Katzen said.

"He is outraged. He feels he has been totally taken advantage of," Katzen said.

The lawsuit also accuses the estate's representative, BNY Mellon bank of wrongly "invading" the trust and transferring assets without authorization. A Mellon spokeswoman declined comment on specific allegations but said the bank would defend its position in court. There was no immediate indication in court records that any of Gail Posner's former employees had hired lawyers.

When she was alive, Gail Posner made such a fuss over her Chihuahuas that she hired a publicist for Conchita to promote her as one of the world's most spoiled dogs. In a 2007 interview with The Miami Herald, she said Conchita had a $12,000 summer wardrobe and a $15,000 diamond necklace that the dog simply refused to wear.

"Conchita is the only girl I know who doesn't consider diamonds her best friend," Gail Posner told the newspaper.

The will provides for Conchita and the other two dogs to live in the mansion in the manner to which they're accustomed until they die. The $3 million doesn't go directly to the animals; it's earmarked for expenses related to their care as well as the mansion's maintenance, utilities and so forth.

Florida law does allow estates to provide for care of animals. Frank T. Adams, an attorney and expert in Florida probate law, said the provisions covering the dogs seemed well-drafted and might pass muster, at least partially, with a judge. The real battle, he says, won't be over the dogs but over whether Gail Posner was fooled into rewriting her will.

The Miami case recalls that of New York hotel queen Leona Helmsley, who left a $12 million trust fund for her white Maltese, Trouble. A judge whittled that down to $2 million.

Carr's lawsuit contends that his mother had existing mental and addiction problems made worse by cancer treatments that included powerful painkillers. The combination, her son claims, made her susceptible to "brainwashing" by her employees and unable to understand the consequences of changes she made in her will.

"She was easily inappropriately induced," Katzen said. "The people that were there taking care of her, instead of taking care of her, took advantage of her."

It will be up to a judge to decide if that is true. No court date has been set.

Published: Tue, Jun 29, 2010