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Blogs - Trial and Heirs
Huguette Clark Case Illustrates Importance of Proper Estate Planning
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Huguette Clark was a mysterious and reclusive New York multi-millionairess who passed away on May 24, 2011, a mere two weeks short of her 105th birthday.

Clark was the daughter, and only surviving child, of William Andrews Clark, who died in 1925 and was believed to be one of the richest Americans at the time. He built his wealth through copper mining and served as a senator of Montana. For many years, his daughter was thought to have died long ago. 

Indeed, Huguette Clark hadn’t been seen in the Fifth Avenue apartment that she lived in (and still owned when she died) in 22 years.

Where was she all that time? Living in a hospital room, even though she was in good health when she moved there in the late 1980s. Watched over by a private nurse, her attorney, and an accountant — who was a convicted sex offender — Clark was said to have considered her collection of dolls to be her closest companions. She was isolated from her family members, and the Manhattan district attorney’s office has spent months in a lengthy criminal investigation over how her attorney, Wallace Bock, and accountant, Irving Kamsler, managed her vast fortune.

That duo says that she didn’t want to see her family members — all of whom were distant — and that they merely followed her wishes. They deny any wrongdoing.

And perhaps they’re right. Relying on reports of the criminal investigation, some of her relatives filed a court proceeding last year, asking for an independent guardian to be appointed to protect Clark.  The judge quickly dismissed the case and found it to be based on nothing but “speculative assertions.”

Now that she has passed away, who stands to inherit her $400 million?  

MSNBC.com, which has been reporting about Huguette Clark for more than a year, reports that most of her wealth is earmarked to pass to an art foundation that her will created.  Her collection of art, rare books, and musical instruments from her Fifth Avenue apartment and her oceanside Santa Barbara, Calif., home will go to the new foundation under the terms of her will. Her Santa Barbara home will house the foundation.

Clark’s will left the rest of her fortune to her long-time nurse, Hadassah Peri, and various other individuals, including her attorney and accountant who each stand to receive $500,000 each (despite their criminal troubles), not to mention potential millions more as executor fees and as directors of the new art foundation.  

The will also leaves $1 million to the hospital in New York that Clark called home, and a rare Monet painting (said to be worth around $25 million) goes to an art museum in Washington, D.C.

You can read her April 2005 will, signed when she was 98 years old, here.  Reportedly, this was signed around the same point that Clark’s attorney cut off contact with her family members.  The will specifically leaves them nothing, noting that Clark only had “minimal contacts” with them over the years.

Interestingly, the attorney who prepared and oversaw the signing of the will works for the same law firm in which Clark’s attorney, Wally Bock, is a named partner. Bock is the attorney who, along with the accountant, Kamsler, is still being investigated for how they managed Clark’s fortune.

This is especially curious considering that the attorney named as having supervised the will, Lewis Siegel, is listed on the firm’s website as practicing commercial and bankruptcy law, with no mention of estate planning.

Normally an estate planning attorney would at the very least draft a revocable living trust for someone with this amount of wealth, rather than relying on a simple will as was done in this case.  Additionally, many experienced estate planning attorneys would not prepare a will that named a law partner as a beneficiary, due to a potential conflict of interest.

But why the will was created in this fashion is only one of the questions surrounding the estate.  The big mysteries involve how much of Clark’s money was spent. MSNBC.com reports that Bock and Kamsler spent $170 million on behalf of Clark over the last 15 years of her life, when she never left her hospital room.  That works out to $1 million per month, give or take.

(2) Comments
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Posted by alice d | Monday, February 27 2012 at 2:55AM ET
Pozostałe niebezpieczeństwo twardnieje się spośrod postraszeniem kulturowym. - Mamy obecnie w Polsce oprowadzaną nawałę kulturową, jaka dysponuje zniszczyć materiałem wybuchowym w powietrze krajową tradycję nienacjonalistyczną wizy usa - mierzy stary. Haftuje adnotację, że całe zależności, z rodem na czele, stawiane na krzyż stulecia, jakie w dalszym ciągu w ostatnim czasie donosiły się niemożliwe aż do zrujnowania, są w tej chwili zbijane. Ten mechanizm, jaki wizy usa raz Dmowski przedstawił terminami, iż o ile ociupinę stanowi na Zachodzie grypą, to obok nas gruźlicą, być może się przetestować - ostrzega.
Posted by misiek m | Tuesday, June 25 2013 at 11:36AM ET
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