Yesterday there was a new twist in the high-profile New York estate planning story involving Huguette Clark, the woman who died this year leaving behind a $400 million Gilded Age fortune. As we discussed earlier this week, the woman’s family was not provided for in her will. Instead her fortune was given mostly to a newly created art charity with some benefits going to her long-time nurse, attorney, and accountant. Instead of using various trusts to ensure the woman’s estate was transferred seamless per her wishes, her New York estate planning attorney surprisingly utilized only a will. Expectedly, the will has been challenged by the woman’s family.
However, new information was just released revealing that Ms. Clark actually signed two wills, one only a few weeks before the other. According to a report by MSNBC, both wills were genuine, meaning that they were properly executed. The first will, seemingly revoked by the signing of the second will, would have left her fortune to her family. The family filed the first will with the court yesterday–the first step in what will assuredly be a prolonged battled over the Clark family millions. The attorney representing the disinherited family members claimed that the case involved “undue influence and exploitation of a very elderly and extraordinarily wealthy woman at the hands of two professionals who, with the help of certain others…ultimately stripped her of her free will, as well as millions of dollars.”
As this situation demonstrates, it is incredibly ill-advised for any family to rely solely on a will to conduct inheritance planning, especially for families with large amounts of wealth. Like clockwork they almost always cause more problems than they solve. Will contests are common and virtually guaranteed to occur when two wills are signed in short succession with family members being cut out between them. In this case, while twenty one relatives would have split the fortune in the first will, the second gave a large amount to a nurse, small sums to an accountant and lawyer, and then put the rest in an art foundation that was to be managed by the same lawyer and accountant. That chain of events raises many red flags about the influence that the small group of individuals who benefitted from the second will had on the woman. It is made even more suspect by the fact that the estate planning attorney who was to benefit from the will was the same one that drew it up.
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