The New York Times shared a story late last week on developments in the settling of the estate of copper heiress Huguette Clark. It is a reminder of the sensitive nature of estate planning, particularly for those with wealth, and the lengths that all involved parties may go to influence one’s decisions regarding inheritance.
As many know, Ms. Clark was very reclusive, living the final two decades of her life at the Beth Israel Medical Center, even though for most of that time she did not actually need hospital care. According to new reports (and allegations from family members), almost as soon as she arrived the hospital engaged in a complex campaign to receive donations from the heiress. Apparently the facility had administrative officials sent to her frequently to build trust. After some time the officials, including the hospital’s CEO allegedly, began talking with her about creating a will. All of this was after officials researched the family history in the hopes of making a more personalized connection with Ms. Clark. It goes without saying that this sort of treatment is not provided to all patients at the facility.
All of this is only recently being made public as part of a high-profile legal challenge filed by some of Clark’s relatives angling for a larger share of her $300 million estate. The legal challenges began almost immediately after her death in 2011, and they are still raging. A trial in the matter is scheduled for September.
The crux of the legal case are claims of undue influence. Beyond trying to get into her will, the family claims that the facility used its position to convince Clark to stay in the hospital for decades (and pay millions to do so), even though she didn’t need medical care. In addition to medical fees, Clark gave the non-profit hospital $4 million in donations, left them $1 million in her will, and donated a painting that sold at auction for $3.5 million.
Criticism of the facility is not limited to relatives. A Manhattan public administrator previously issued critiques of the handling of the estate by many, including the hospital as well as those closest to Clark in the last years of her life.
Two will were drafted in 2005, and the second will is hotly disputed. The first will includes relatives while the second mostly cuts them out. The family argues that a doctor involved in Clark’s care influenced her to made the changes in the second will. Claims about this sort of conduct, particularly with will changes so close together, are not uncommon.