Planned Giving Nightmare Finally Winding Down

For longer term followers of this blog, you should recall the Huguette Clark story as one I reported on regularly.  You can read my posts on this story (click here for older posts), or the tons of internet articles, or even the book (and possibly movie)!  Just do a google search on her.

My interest, in brief, was that for a period (apparently the crucial period) of time in the mid-2000s I was the Planned Giving Director for Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, where Ms. Huguette Clark (a reclusive heiress) lived for over 20 years – paying rent and other costs to stay in the hospital.  The youngest daughter of William Andrews Clark (1800s Copper Baron, U.S. Senator, Wealthy Celebrity), Ms. Clark only did her will very late in life, and of course, did two of them within a month or so (at the same time I had her accountant at one of our planned giving events – to see if he would offer any clues as to whether the hospital might be in for a large bequest).  We assumed she had over a billion in assets (she passed away with over $300 million), so she was actually the “great hope” for Beth Israel to rebuild itself, if she, of course, would put Beth Israel in for 10% or so!  Wishful thinking.

In the meantime, the hospital did a wonderful job caring for her as she lived to 104 (even though she was a wreck when she arrived at Beth Israel 20+ years earlier).  And, Beth Israel’s bequest, in her second will, was only for $1 million.

What was worse, though, and why this was the ultimate planned giving nightmare, was that her great, great half nieces and nephews (or whatever distant relationship you can think of), none of whom (or their parents or even grandparents) even met Ms. Clark while she was alive, had orchestrated a campaign to smear her advisors and caregivers, and create a case for challenging her estate (which cut them out, for the most post and left everything to charity and her nurse and some friends).  They only succeeded in wresting $30 million or so from the estate (paltry considering the legal fees they probably incurred). But, they got one last bite at the apple – the settlement with the estate allowed the family to pursue Beth Israel Medical Center for the money they “stole” from Ms. Clark over the years. (Not sure if the Estate was still pursuing Beth Israel or somehow the long lost relatives were)

It is a great story, by the way, and I do recommend checking out Empty Mansions (http://www.emptymansionsbook.com/) by Bill Dedman. But, the planned giving angle has to do with trouble organizations can find themselves in. I am sure that Beth Israel spent millions of dollars in legal fees dealing with this case – just my guess.  And, for what? A million dollar bequest?

Anyway, the case is finally, finally is ending!  Guess what? The family missed the statute of limitations! “A Manhattan Surrogate Court judge, Nora S. Anderson, ruled last week that the statute of limitations had expired for the estate to argue that officials at the hospital, Beth Israel Medical Center, had manipulated Ms. Clark into donating.” That is from the New York Times’ reporting on this one. Click to see that story.

Ironically, Ms. Clark and her case outlived almost everyone involved – even the hospital that took care of her.  Beth Israel Medical Center is now owned by its arch rival Mount Sinai, so as a former Beth Israel guy, it would not have bothered me so much if Mount Sinai took a big hit on this one. Still, it bothered me how dedicated these long, lost relatives were to grabbing money from Ms. Clark (they were descendants – grandchildren and great grandchildren of Ms. Clark’s older half-siblings – all of whom were adults when Ms. Clark was born in 1906 – all descendants of a formerly wealthy family that squandered their wealth along the way).  This was their last chance as getting something.

Anyway, one last quote from Beth Israel’s doctor should send chills up our planned giving spines:

In 2000, Ms. Clark donated Manet’s Pivoines dans une bouteille (Peonies in a Bottle), 1864. When the painting sold far under its expected price, one doctor sent an internal memo that read: “I told her about the disappointing price of the painting, but she didn’t take the bait and offer a half-dozen more.”

Having been on the “inside” at Beth Israel, I can testify that there was no conspiracy to unduely influence Ms. Clark.  She was in charge, not the hospital.  It was only wishful thinking and some rather unpleasant statements that should never have been put to writing.

If you made it this far, you have to see this next post about a stolen painting of Ms. Clark’s that the F.B.I. recoved only to gift it to the purchaser’s favorite museum.  Click here for that one.

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