Sidney Altman's best friend wasn't his blond girlfriend, Marie Dana. According to his will, it was his blond cocker spaniel, Samantha, and he left the dog the bulk of his $6-million estate.
Dana is contesting the will in Los Angeles Superior Court. She is seeking a $2.7-million bite of the estate in an unusual lawsuit that combines the elements of a palimony case with those of a probate dispute.
Dana, 32, says in legal papers filed in Superior Court that Altman, who made his millions distributing upscale bathroom fixtures, promised to take care of her for life when she moved into his Beverly Hills home in 1990.
Yet, six years later, when Altman died at 60 after suffering a heart attack, he left his millions to Samantha and named Dana the dog's legal guardian.
"She's feeling that she shouldn't be treated worse than a dog," said Dana's lawyer, Cary Goldstein.
Goldstein is alleging that Altman's 1994 will was "stale" by the time he died. He contends that it did not reflect the depth of his relationship with Dana, who cared for him and was his constant companion for six years.
Dana asserts that she was Altman's fiancee at the time of his death.
Still, Altman's handwritten, four-page will, scrawled on his company stationary, states that "my primary concern is to protect my loving companion, my dog Samantha, and I do not wish her to suffer major change in her life." It describes Dana merely as "my good friend."
The will also left $350,000 for Samantha's upkeep, and $50,000 to Dana to redecorate the house and go "on a massive shopping spree at Polo."
Altman's business partner, Clive Diamond, was left $150,000 and named executor. Among his duties: checking every three months on Samantha to ensure that the cocker spaniel is treated well and in good health. He could not be reached for comment.
Under the terms of the will, Dana is to be paid $60,000 a year, tax-free, to care for Samantha. And she can live in the house in Benedict Canyon for the duration of the dog's life.
"On the decease of my dog, the arrangement with Marie Dana is canceled," Altman's will stated.
"Decedent promised that he would always support me and provide a home for me in exchange for my being his lifetime companion, confidant, giving him emotional support and always taking care of his needs," Dana stated in court papers.
"I was shocked and deeply disappointed when I learned that . . . at Samantha's death I would be homeless and without support."
Samantha is getting on. She's 15 now, which is 75 in people years. And that has Dana worried.
"She checks every day to make sure that dog's tail is wagging," said Goldstein.
According to terms of Altman's will, his house is to be sold and his millions passed on to two animal rights charities--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Last Chance for Animals--upon Samantha's demise.
Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner urged the parties to settle the case, even if it means throwing Dana a bigger bone, before they return to Probate Court on Oct. 10.
"I keep a sense of humor," said Dana, who professes a fondness for Samantha.