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The Legal Case Surrounding Heiress Huguette Clark's Will

By Edited Nov 20, 2015 1 0
Gavel & Stryker
Credit: KeithBurtis/Wikimedia Commons/Attribution

Who Should Have Inherited the Copper Heiress' Fortune?

Huguette M. Clark, the youngest daughter of William Andrews Clark, died in May 2011. Prior to her death, there had been a lot of media coverage that described the extremely reclusive life she lived. Initially, some even wondered if she was still alive, opening up a lot of dialogue about the heiress' life.

A child born of the second marriage of Clark, who was a mining tycoon and former senator, Huguette inherited a fifth share of her father's vast fortune after he passed away in 1925. Clark was once one of the top two richest men in America after striking it rich in copper.  An older sister of Huguette had died several decades ago at the age of 16 from meningitis. Hugette had several half-siblings born of her father's first marriage.

Who was Huguette M. Clark?

Within the decade after her father's death, Ms. Clark was rarely, if ever, seen in public. Clark had been briefly married, less than two years. Records indicate she was married from 1928-1930. No children were born of that union. From the point of sometime after her divorce, Huguette lived with her mother, Anna, most of her life in a lavish New York City apartment. 

Ms. Clark, an artist, chose to live a mysterious and isolated life. After Anna's passing in 1963, the mysterious Huguette became even more reclusive.

The Clark Family Fortune

Approximately a year after those initial articles were published that outlined the heiress' life and the mystery surrounding her lifestyle, it was reported Clark had passed away two weeks before her 105th birthday.

At that time, the big question was who would inherit her vast multi-million dollar fortune?

Already, the courts had been involved regarding suspicion of Clark's attorney and accountant. Those charges were later dismissed due to no evidence to charge either with a crime.

Initial media reports described her fortune as being worth somewhere in the realm of $500,000,000. Later media reports provide estimates closer to $300,000,000. This includes three expansive estates located in New York, California and Connecticut that had all long been abandoned, yet still carefully maintained.

It wouldn't be long before another court situation would emerge.

A Story of Two Wills

Reportedly, Ms. Clark had put into effect a will in March 20051 [PDF]. In this will, various family members would inherit her wealth, although specific people were reportedly not named. Many, if not all the surviving family members of the Clark family are related to Huguette through her father's first marriage. 

However, six weeks later a second will was written and executed in April 2005. This will changed the beneficiaries written the previous month's will. Recipients in the new will included:

  • Christopher Sattler, Clark's personal assistant
  • Henry Singman, primary doctor
  • Wallace Bock, attorney
  • Wanda Styka , a Goddaughter of Ms. Clark
  • Irving Kamsler, her accountant
  • Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, where Clark lived the last 20 years of her life
  • Hadassah Peri, Clark's longtime private nurse, would receive the heiress' rare doll collection and 60 percent of whatever was left over after the other bequests were made.

A large bulk of the fortune was also designated to go to the arts. Various institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, would benefit. Additionally, Ms. Clark outlined she wanted the creation of a new arts' foundation called the Bellosguardo Foundation, named after her California estate. The newly created foundation would receive her massive, and unused, oceanfront estate in addition to some other assets. Clark had purportedly not visited the multimillion dollar property in over 50 years.

Protests of the Second Will Leads to Legal Action

Numerous distant family members immediately challenged the second will. A court case was initiated by 20 of Ms. Clark’s grandnephews, grandnieces, great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces. Most of these people she had never met. A few she had previously met, but had not seen in a number of decades; media reports indicated this would have been in the 1950s or 1960s. Although, a handful of her relatives had reportedly tried to touch base with her over the years, no one knew she was living at the hospital.

The family said Ms. Clark was a very private person and they did not want to impose and/or they wanted to respect her wishes to stay in seclusion.

The family members contested the second will saying Ms. Clark was not competent and was exploited by people who kept her dependent and vulnerable. These accusations were directed towards most of the people listed as beneficiaries in the second will.

The second group of beneficiaries insist Ms. Clark was a stubborn and strong-willed individual, stating the heiress made her own decisions and never was coerced into anything.

The will, had reportedly been drawn up by Bock, along with Kamsler’s input. The will named the attorney and the accountant as executor. Both men, along with Ms. Clark's California lawyer, were designated as directors of the new foundation, which would pay a handsome salary.

Many of the recipients of the second will had also received numerous gifts over the years from Huguette Clark. Some of these were quite generous.

Sattler, the personal assistant to Clark, reportedly disputed the family’s argument Clark was being kept isolated intentionally.

"The time in the hospital actually resocialized Mrs. Clark — she became less of a recluse,” Mr. Sattler said, according to a New York Times report. "Not by much, but she enjoyed the traffic of humanity for the first time in 50 years."2

Court Settlement

In this expansive and complex legal case, a tentative settlement was proposed in September 2013, and later brought to fruition.

In this proposal, the relatives would inherit about $34 million. Her nurse would not get the vast sum awarded, and would have to pay back $5 million of the $31 million she had been bequeathed outside of the will. The attorney and accountant would get nothing. Some of the recipients would get what was bequeathed in the second will.

The new foundation would remain intact, as directed by Clark, and this includes the pricey California estate. In the terms, all of the attorneys representing each individual involved in the major lawsuit would get paid legal fees out of the estate. In total, 16 law firms were said to be involved.


Complications emerged, because this settlement assumed the IRS would forgive past due penalties that were accrued by Ms. Clark's generosity. There were reportedly tens of millions of dollars in penalties. This created other controversy because if the IRS decided to collect the penalty money, the California estate might be sold, which would violate Ms. Clark's wishes of it being preserved.

"It's apparent that Ms. Clark kept Bellosguardo in immaculate condition for the last 50 years even without visiting,"  said current mayor of Santa Barbara, Helene Schneider, "To me that means she cared deeply about this community. I sincerely hope that Ms. Clark's genuine wishes are reflected in any final judgment." (courtesy CNBC)

In the end, most of this scenario was agreed upon, but there might be additional legal battles relating to the structure of the art foundation being set up a bit differently than Ms. Clark had outlined.

While the lawsuits have been settled, much mystery remains. Chances are this isn't the end of the story. In May 2014 a report emerged executors of the estate are now claiming Clark was insane.5

Update Nov. 2015:  

The legal battles indeed have continued over Ms. Clark's estate. In Aug. 2015 the Honorable Nora S. Anderson, Manhattan Surrogate Court, ruled in favor of the hospital (Beth Israel Medical Center), stating it would not have to pay. The $95 million lawsuit alleged the hospital charged Clark hundreds of thousands of dollars for unnecessary care. The hospital alleged Clark had refused to leave once treatment was complete and it was not their policy to force patients out. The case was dismissed when Judge Anderson ruled the statute of limitations had run out since it had been far longer than the three year requirement to file after the last donation. The last donation took place in Oct. 2002.

More cases over Clark's estate and will are likely to continue. At the time of the Judge Anderson also said a separate lawsuit against two doctors and a nurse who took care of Clark could proceed. 


Related reading: Mystery Surrounding Millionaire Huguette M. Clark



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  1. "Last Will & Testament of Huguette M. Clark." MSNBC. 27/10/2014 <Web >
  2. Anemona Hartocollis "The Two Wills of the Heiress Huguette Clark." New York Times. 13/09/2013. 27/10/2014 <Web >
  3. Bill Dedman "Proposed deal in Huguette Clark estate: Charity, relatives, lawyers win." CNBC News (article courtesy of NBC). 21/09/2013. 27/10/2014 <Web >
  4. Bill Dedman "Huguette Clark's $300 million copper fortune is divided up: Here's the deal." NBC News. 27/10/2014 <Web >
  5. "Executors of Huguette Clark's estate claim she was insane." New York Post. 05/05/2014. 27/10/2014 <Web >
  6. "Estate of Heiress Loses Fight to Recover Millions in Donations From Hospital." New York Times. 25/08/2015. 20/11/2015 <Web >
  7. "Hospital doesn’t owe Huguette Clark’s estate due to loophole." New York Post. 24/08/2015. 20/11/2015 <Web >

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