What do you get when you mix a reclusive heiress with a will disinheriting her closest relatives? Unfortunately, litigation.
The story of Huguette Clark, reclusive daughter of a copper magnate and former United States Senator, should serve as a cautionary tale for everyone; even those with an estate worth significantly less than her estimated $300 million.
As reported by the New York Times, Huguette executed two wills in 2005. The first left the bulk of her estate to her closest relatives. The second, executed just six weeks later, cut out her relatives entirely, leaving gifts instead to her goddaughter, doctor, accountant, lawyer, and a foundation for the arts (among others).
Executing such vastly different wills in such a short period of time left the door wide open to legal challenge. Each side now has to develop their own narrative for what happened, painting dueling images of the reclusive heiress: a resolute millionaire vs. a vulnerable invalid. Was she a stubborn, strong-willed individual that had been jaded by “minimal contacts” with her family? Or did doctors, nurses, lawyers, and accountants isolate and exploit a vulnerable 104 year old woman? The outcome of the case is uncertain. What is certain is that the “dirty laundry” of what was once one of America’s richest families will now play out in the public arena.
It didn’t have to be that way. Better planning could have significantly reduced the likelihood of claims for undue influence and/or diminished capacity.
The lesson? Consulting with litigation attorneys as part of the planning process can sometimes help prevent litigation.
Click here to read the full NYT article.