HUGUETTE CLARK AS EXEMPLAR
The last member of the gilded age passed away just a few years ago. Huguette Clark’s life, in some ways, seems to mirror the classic Orson Welles classic
One of the first things that she did to insure an estate battle was to pass the entirety of her estate via a will. While the larger family itself may have created various trusts for family members to pass on the overwhelming wealth, Ms. Clark herself chose to pass her wealth via a will. While it is alleged that Ms. Clark’s attorney and accountant had something to do with these limited and financially irresponsible decisions, Ms. Clark did not create a trust to ensure the passage of her large and very valuable art collection to charity, which included a painting by Monet, valued at at least $25 million as well as a Picasso worth over $31 million.
Since her estate was so large, there is great incentive for third parties to seek to be an heir to the estate. Since she did not have any children of her own, she had a large pool of relatives that would seek to be an heir to the estate. So, the second mistake that Ms. Clark made was that in the absence of any children, she should have created a list of clearly definable or ascertainable heirs that she wanted to leave her estate to. With an estate so large she could have created a list of primary heirs or beneficiaries, contingent heirs or beneficiaries and a second or even third set of heirs or beneficiaries.
The next mistake was to become so reclusive. The last 20 years of her life was spent in an exclusive hospital, where she regularly changed her name and even the room numbers to throw visitors off. She specifically indicated in one will that she specifically excluded her family as heirs as they had limited contact with her through the years. Again, the role that her attorney and accountant played in her life may have contributed to this fact.
Finally, the last mistake that Ms. Clark made to ensure an estate battle was to leave money to her attorney and accountant. Leaving money to a trusted attorney or financial adviser is perfectly legitimate and happens often enough. Nevertheless, attorneys know that even without the factors listed above, a Court or third party will want to review the facts of the case to insure that the testator was not subject to undue influence whenever an attorney or financial adviser is listed in a will.
After all of these facts came to light, Ms. Clark’s heirs did seek to contest Ms. Clark’s estate. On the eve of trial all parties settled the matter for a fair resolution.