One of the most well-known New York estate planning stories (and mysteries) of recent years is that of Huguette Clark. The extremely reclusive heiress recently passed away, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars with many wondering where exactly the money will end up. Of course, in most cases an inheritance will go to surviving close family members, dear friends, or well-known charitable causes. However, Ms. Clark had very few surviving family members, and it is now being reported that she only one "real" friend, a French woman named Suzanne Pierre.
Ms. Pierre had become somewhat of a liaison between Ms. Clark and the rest of the world. It was alleged that Ms. Pierre was one of the few people who was privy to the heiress's estate planning documents. In fact, according to the New York Observer, Pierre once helped anonymously sell some of Ms. Clark's impressive art collection. She was also the recipient of a $10 million gift of a rare painting from the estranged heiress. Before Ms. Clark's passing some predicted that Ms. Pierre would actually be named heir to much of Ms. Clark's fortune. However, that possibility vanished when Ms. Pierre herself passed away a few months before Ms. Clark moved on.
One of Ms. Pierre's own most valuable assets, her Park Avenue apartment, was recently sold during the disposition of her estate. City records indicate that the unit sold for just under $2 million. The sale comes as many in the real estate world speculate on the prospects of Ms. Clark's own, massive Park Avenue apartment. The 42-room unit is expected to fetch somewhere around $70 million. Many are calling the unit the most sought-after apartment in the entire city and "the listing of the young century."
However, it remains unclear when the unit will actually be listed, because a fiasco still exists regarding the ownership of Ms. Clark's assets.
As it now stands Ms. Clark's estimated $500 million is in limbo. Accusations of fraud and undue influence have already been made. Caregivers, financial professionals, and distant relatives are all locked in a legal struggle to determine what happens to the fortune. Our New York estate planning lawyers always find these drawn-out legal feuds to be quite sad. Of course this sort of situation is almost expected when there is so much money at stake. However, similar in-fighting occurs even when much less is on the line. The emotions of the situation often run high and the focus becomes "winning" as opposed to properly respecting the wishes of the one who passed on. Anything that can be done to prevent such situations ahead of time should always be explored.
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