Huguette Clark Story – The Murky-Side of Planned Giving

If you haven’t noticed the Huguette Clark story, you have to see this: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43166747/ns/business-huguette_clark_mystery/

or check out the really interesting photo narrative: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38810137/ns/business-huguette_clark_mystery/

The rest of this post assumes you (the reader) have read about Huegette Clark – a really interesting story on its own.

Where is the planned giving murky-side I promised in the title of the post?

I was employed as the director of planned giving for Beth Israel Medical Center in NYC from 2004 though 2006 (and consulted through 2007), Ms. Clark’s “residence” for over 20 years.  I never met Ms. Clark – she was already well into her late 90’s and not taking random visitors at her room in the hospital; I didn’t even have a clue where that room might have been.

But, I did meet her accountant and had contact with her attorney (both of whom are under serious scrutiny according to news reports). And, we (the fundraising staff) discussed her situation often enough that I have been meaning to call my old boss to see what ever happened.  In fact, a few people mentioned something about this story to me last week and I didn’t realize that it was her because I had assumed that she died quietly without fanfare.

I mean – who did she have left?  Her mom died in 1963, her sister in 1919, father in 1925.  The only relatives she could have were descendants from children of her father’s first marriage – and all her step-siblings were adults by 1900 and all older than her mother!  Maybe the step-siblings’ great grandchildren are around!

There are two stories here that you won’t find in the newspaper accounts.

Number 1 – these so-called relatives from the Clark family are so ridiculously distant, that their claims of wanting to pay respects to their beloved great, great, great, great, great half-aunt are totally and absurdly insane.  Actually, not  insane, but clearly crafted to get the entire estate into their hands.  They have planned this from the start and they may actually accomplish their goal.  Ms. Clark’s attorney and accountant were known in estate administration circles to me, fine people just following their client’s very specific wishes.  But, what they can’t control is the power a last living next-of-kin has in attacking a will – and these so-called relatives clearly know this and are making a play for the money.  The Manhattan DA’s so-called criminal investigation into the attorney and accountant has nothing to do with ethical or non-ethical behavior. Someone made a phone call or met with the right person, and all of a sudden a criminal instigation is started!?!!  Makes no sense.  The surrogate’s court, with assistance from the NY attorney general’s charities bureau, would make sure that justice is done for Ms. Clark – it is unprecedented for a criminal investigation to start so soon on such a case.  To me, it’s a fix.

This extremely unusual DA criminal investigation has all the signs of a smart attorney playing every card, above and under the table.  I should know, it reminds me of what I used to do to win cases and what I probably might have done had I represented the Clark descendants.

The will is already in big trouble, and Ms. Clark isn’t even dead for week.  And, as I recall, Ms. Clark did not have a will when I was working for Beth Israel.  That means they only need to knock out the validity of that one will (after destroying the credibility of the attorney and accountant, of course – see the picture), which was signed close to Ms. Clark’s 100th birthday.

It is sad because it will be the charities named in that will that lose out.  My guess, she had no connection whatsoever to these extremely distant half-relatives – remember, her mom was the much younger second wife. I am sure that the first wife’s children were never pleased with Huegette’s side of the family – that is, until they realized that they had an easy opening to her money – about a 100 years later!

The second story is that of fundraisers involved with unusual people like Ms. Clark.  My former boss and a former president of the hospital where Ms. Clark lived out the end of her life had relationships with her and had hopes that the hospital might included in the will.  Yes, she paid the full price for her room at the hospital as far as I knew, and even made some significant gifts.

This is where planned giving – the art of encouraging inclusion in estate plans – starts to cross lines. Ms. Clark lived at our hospital, had a private room, for over 20 years.  The hospital, ever vigilant not to create any unethical impressions, tread very carefully on this issue.  They had whatever contact Ms. Clark allowed and was appropriate, treated her as best as they could, and then prayed.

Obviously, I have no idea if Beth Israel was or wasn’t included in the will.  I did recall the accountant giving me a hint not to expect that much – just a memory of mine with no relevance.  She apparently was in the process of doing her only will at that time – maybe in the end she decided to do something big for the home of her later years, maybe not.

Sadly, the point may all be moot with the way story is unfolding.  I wish someone from the NY attorney general’s office would get a hold of this story and start representing the charitable interests involved and stop this clearly fabricated criminal investigation.  If any crimes were committed, they will come out in the estate administration and then you can prosecute.

Just another planned giving story with strange twists starting to unfold.

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