Huguette Clark Will Challenge Goes Into High Gear

Sadly, as I predicted last May, the story of Huguette Clark’s estate and charitable bequests is headed to an all out battle by her “next of kin” (extremely distant relatives by normal standards but next in line according to the law) to knock out her last will.  The investment in massive legal maneuvering by the family is a good one – knock out the last will and you win $500 million (even if it means that Huguette’s charitable goals are ruined).  If the family’s case isn’t that strong, they settle for tens of millions in any case.

But, I could not have predicted the strange twists this case is taking that you can read about in the following article:

http://openchannel.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/28/9067033-a-400-million-twist-huguette-clark-signed-two-wills-one-to-her-family

In short, Ms. Clark – with a $500 million estate – signed two wills within weeks of each other in 2005 at age 98! First will left most to so-called family; second one cuts them out completely and puts bulk of fortune to charitable purposes.

Ironically, I was an attorney on a similar case where competing wills were drawn (by two different attorneys) within six weeks of each other – causing a 10 year legal battle over the estate.  In that case, it was the decedent who got the last laugh by pitting two greedy attorneys against each – both of whom were eventually tossed from their lucrative roles with the estate.

In this case, the facts seems to indicate that the same attorney drew up the first will and then drew up the second one (which happened to benefit him and her accountant much more).  All of this makes me wonder what was going on.

All very interesting reading and it all makes my adage  “the bigger the gift, the bigger the precautions” ring very true in this case.  With hindsight though, it is very easy to judge.  I am sure the attorney and accountant involved with Ms. Clark tried very hard to do the right thing.

Oh well.  Ms. Clark was perhaps the largest “planned gift” I had any connection to in my career.  I had been the director of planned giving at Beth Israel Medical Center – her residence of 20+ years from 2004 to 2006 (ironically during the time she actually signed her wills).  I never met her, nor was that likely to ever happen.  We just knew that there could be a big bequest and contemplated how those who had some contact with her could potentially encourage inclusion in the will (Beth Israel was a beneficiary in the 2nd will for $1 million – nice gift but somewhat disappointing considering the size of her estate).

I also can’t help thinking that MSNBC – the lead news outlet covering this story – is slanted in favor of the long lost family somehow.  All of their pieces, interesting as they may be, seem to be going after the attorney and accountant of the estate. Their pursuit of this story is perfect for the family to build a case to get that money and it makes me wonder.

2 comments

  1. I’m totally bewildered by this. If the accountant and attorney are shady why did they keep the first will in their file? Ms. Clark’s personal nurse also received a good chunk. I wonder what she will testify to, as she had already received millions from Huguette before she died. I wonder what Huguette’s doctor will say about her mental capacity? Huguette would just die (sorry about the pun) if she could know about all this publicity. I am interested in knowing about the china and silver Huguette had in the 5th Avenue apartment, just to see how fabulous it was. I agree with the writer of this blog that from the beginning the MSNBC reporter was very favorably biased toward the descendents of Huguette’s half siblings. Maybe that side of the family has spent all their share of the money, as Senator Clark split it equally between his five surviving children.

    1. Thank you for commenting! Yes, this story is extremely strange. My hunch – based on my very limited involvement back in 2005 – is that Ms. Clark was calling the shots all the way and her attorney and accountant were just trying to get her to do something. IF she wanted the first will, she got it. If she changed her mind right away, she got that, too. We are all missing some big pieces to this story. What really happened up until and during the 6 weeks between the signing of her wills. Her attorney should have known that his personal benefits in her second will would jeopardize its validity. Maybe they knew what they were doing? Maybe not?

      By the way, her half siblings were adults already in her childhood. The were probably all dead by the 1930s. The family going after the money are descendants of half-siblings who she probably had no relationship with whatsoever. Remember – they must have not been thrilled at their father’s remarriage to a much younger woman.

      Incredibly, I think that I actually sat with her accountant at a Roosevelt Hospital function in April 2005 – right in between the signing of the wills. I was hoping to get a hint as to whether Ms. Clark had signed a will and whether Beth Israel might have been included. He was polite and didn’t let on either way.

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