TODAY | June 19, 2010
LESTER HOLT, co-host: Now to another legal case we're following this morning, the heiress who left millions of dollars to her dogs and left her son fighting mad. We get the story from NBC 's Peter Alexander .
PETER ALEXANDER reporting: Conchita the Chihuahua is one of the world's most pampered pets, who was the prized possession of the late Miami heiress Gail Posner , who died three months ago at the age of 67. Conchita , seen here in pearls and a tutu, and two other dogs inherited Posner 's exclusive $8 million Miami Beach mansion and a $3 million trust fund. As for Posner 's only son, Bret Carr , he was left with a relatively measly $1 million in his mother's will. Carr filed a lawsuit this month, claiming his mother's household aides and bodyguards "drugged" and "brainwashed" his deeply disturbed mother, who he says suffered from "mental disorders," "paranoid delusions" and "bipolarism," and ultimately stole Posner 's assets by convincing her to change her will. The suit claims $10 million went to one bodyguard, 5 million to another, and 2 million more to her personal trainer. Sound bizarrely familiar?
Ms. LEONA HELMSLEY: I've done nothing wrong.
ALEXANDER: In 2007 , New York real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her pet Maltese, Trouble, before a judge later reduced it to just 2 million . As for Conchita , now at the center of one of the nation's nastiest estate battles, she's being cared for back at the Miami Beach mansion while the case heads to court. For TODAY, Peter Alexander , NBC News, Miami .
HOLT: Here to discuss the issues involved in this unusual case, NBC 's chief legal analyst, Dan Abrams . Dan , good morning.
Mr. DAN ABRAMS (NBC News Chief Legal Analyst): Hey, Lester.
HOLT: I feel like I should say Conchita didn't have a comment.
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah, yeah.
HOLT: But you leave whatever you want to whoever you want, so what would make a court look at this sideways?
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah, when it comes to your will, you can treat your dog like a child and you can treat your child like a dog. But that doesn't mean that the courts won't look very carefully at this case. Why? First of all, you've got the changed will in 2008 . Second, you've got the fact that the family member's getting so little and the help, effectively, is getting so much and the dog gets so much. So I think it's the sort of case that you will certainly see some sort of change in the result towards the son, but I don't know that it'll be a significant amount.
HOLT: In the suit I think he notes that the relationship between mother and son wasn't great in the latter years. He called it -- he said it was better in her, quote, "sober years." But here's the deal. If I convince you, Dan Abrams ...
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah.
HOLT: ...I say, `You know, you should leave everything to me because I'm your best buddy'...
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah.
HOLT: ...if you make that decision of sound mind, does it matter that someone convinced you change the will?
Mr. ABRAMS: No, not if I've -- not if I'm of sound mine. And that's the key factor there because, remember, in this case he's saying she was not of sound mind, she was drugged, she was brainwashed. This is not effectively what she wants.
HOLT: But how does he prove that?
Mr. ABRAMS: Well, that...
HOLT: I mean, that's a big statement to make, big allegation to make.
Mr. ABRAMS: It is very tough but, again, they look at all the circumstances surrounding what happened, meaning where were they on the previous will before it was changed. How much -- how long did these people know her? For example, if the bodyguard had just recently been hired and, lo and behold, suddenly these bodyguards are getting millions of dollars in her will, I think a court is going to look at that and be very suspicious and possibly throw it out.
HOLT: We noted -- it was noted in the Leona Helmsley case that they reduced the amount to the dog, but the rest went to charity. So even if a judge says, `No, this is way too much to leave to a dog,' it doesn't necessarily mean it goes to Mr. Carr.
Mr. ABRAMS: That's right . And a lot of the time courts will try to do something that is sort of good for society and, as a result, leave money to charity. If she'd left some money to charity, they may say, `Let's expand it.' But courts want to be very careful about not saying, `This is how your assets should be allocated. We the courts are going to decide what's best for you.' Courts are really reluctant to do that, so they try as best that they can to go back into what was the intent, what was the will of this particular person when they executed it.
HOLT: It will be interesting to learn the outcome of this. Dan Abrams , good to have you here.