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Relatives battle for dead copper heiress's fortune

Distant relatives of an American copper heiress are challenging the validity of her will, which deliberately denies them a slice of her $300 million fortune.
A shot of Huguette Clark taken in 1930

Distant relatives of an American copper heiress are challenging the validity of her will, which deliberately denies them a slice of her $300 million (€234.4 million) fortune.

Huguette Clark, the reclusive youngest daughter of copper magnate and US senator William Clark, died in 2011 at the age of 104.

Clark left over 80% of her fortune and estates to charity – she had no children, and was only briefly married between 1928 and 1930.

The remainder of her estate was divided between her nurse, doctor, goddaughter and financial and legal advisers.

Clark's nurse was the largest single beneficiary – receiving a $30 million bequest and $30 million in gifts over the course of 20 years in Clark's service.

In a final clause, Clark wrote: "I intentionally make no provision in this my last will [and] testament for any member of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contact with them over the years."

Nineteen of her relatives – descendants of Clark's half-siblings from her father's first marriage – contest the will, arguing it was the product of fraud; that Clark was incompetent and that the signing ceremony was invalid.

They also contest the lavish gifts she gave to her entourage in the last years of her life, and could possibly force her staff to return the sums they were given to her estate.

Her doctor, Henry Singman, told the court last week that he is renouncing the $100,000 he received in the will so that he can freely testify in the case – his testimony would have been limited had he not done this.

Her lawyer and accountant are also expected to follow Singman's leave and renounce their bequests so they can also testify.

If their case is successful, Clark's relatives will inherit her entire estate – currently worth an estimated $307 million, leaving $175 million after fees and taxes – even though fourteen of the claimants admit to never having met the heiress.

Clark spent the last 15 years of her life in hospital under a pseudonym while her vast properties stood empty. The Beth Israel Medical Centre, where she passed her last few years, also stands to receive a significant bequest if the will is upheld.

The case is due to go to court on 17 September.

The timing of the case coincides with the publication of a new biography titled Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by journalist Paul Dedman, and Paul Clark Newell Jr – a relative of Clark's who is not involved in the case.

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