Timing is of critical importance with estate planning matters. Obviously, a plan must be in place early enough to be of use before one falls ill or suffers from mental issues. For example, creating a will or trust may be impossible after one suffers a stroke or succumbs to serious effects of Alzheimers. This is why we continue to encourage residents to make plans early and consistently update them.
Time also factors into matters after a death. Many beneficiaries may face hardship if they are forced to wait months (or even years) to have an estate settled. One of the key benefits of an inheritance plan is to minimize the risk of a long delay between the actual passing on of assets, often focused on avoiding probate and preventing feuding.
The latest developments in the estate battle of Huguette Clark offers an example of the consequences of a drawn-out legal battle. Ms. Clark was the reclusive daughter of Guilded Age baron Senator William Andrews Clark. He amassed a fortune in the copper and railroad industries and is known as the founder of the city of Las Vegas. An intensely private individual, Huguette spent the last three and a half decades in Manhattan hospitals, even though she was not actually ill. In the several decades before that she rarely left her Fifth Avenue apartment.
Ms. Clark died over a year and a half ago, in May of 2011. However, her assets–valued between $300 and $400 million–have yet to be distributed. That is because a dispute arose between the woman’s extended family and others close to her. Two wills were apparently found, signed by the heiress six weeks apart. The first will gave most of the fortune to her extended family while the most recent will left them nothing. The extended family contested the second will, as they have concerns about the undue influence her network of nurses and doctors may have had over the elderly woman. There are claims of coercion related to gifts totaling tens of millions of dollars that were given to some of those individuals.
The legal battle is still unresolved. However, according to a Huffington Post story from this week, one of the potential heirs recently died. A 60-year old great nephew of the heiress was found last week under a bridge in Wyoming. The man was apparently homeless and died as a result of exposure to the elements on the cold winter’s night. Had he survived he may have stood to gain nearly $20 million as a result of the inheritance. His cut of the inheritance will now go to his other relatives.
The case is a sad reminder of the many ancillary consequences of not having detailed estate plans in place to handle matters as efficiently as possible.