I just read an interesting article regarding the estate of Huguette Clark. Ms. Clark passed away in May at the age of 104. She was a part of what is often referred to as New York's "Gilded Age", along with the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts.
Ms. Clark's relatives are accusing her co-executors, attorney William Bock and accountant Irving Kamsler of plundering her fortune during her lifetime while Ms. Clark was hospitalized. While she was confined to her hospital room, her spending amounted to $1 million dollars per month. A court ordered accounting of the heiress' finances over the last 15 years has raised allegations of misspending, mismanagement and misappropriation of her funds, according the family's attorney.
Ms. Clark signed a will in March 2005 which left most of her estate to 21 of her relatives. In April 2005, she signed a will, which by contrast gives her family nothing and leaving her vast estate to her nurse, a charity for the arts, and her co-executors.
There are a couple of interesting issues that the court will have to decide in this case. First, was Ms. Clark's estate mismanaged during her lifetime? While $1million is certainly a significant amount of money to spend in a month, Ms. Clark was receiving 24 hour care in a private hospital. Additional, there had to be a sizeable amount of money being spent to maintain her vast real estate holdings. If the court finds that Messrs. Bock and Kamsler acting inappropriately, they could be subject to civil liability as well as be subject to an investigation for professional misconduct by their respective professional licensing boards.
Regardless, it appears that Messrs. Bock and Kamsler have a lot of explaining to do.
Second, did Ms. Clark possess the requisite capacity to execute a will in 2005? If she did not possess the requisite capacity, then the will(s) would be void and her estate would pass to her heirs under the laws of intestate succession.
Finally, if Ms. Clark was competent in 2005, was she subject to the undue influence of Messrs. Bock and Kamsler? Undue influence occurs when an individual(s) in a position of power over another exerts influence over that individual to the extent their ability to bargain through free will does not exist. If the court finds that Ms. Clark was under the undue influence of Messrs. Bock and Kamsler, then the court can void the will that was executed in April 2005, leaving the March 2005 will as the governing document in this case.
This case illustrates the importance of being involved in the affairs of your loved ones to ensure that they are not taken advantage of. As experienced elder law attorneys, we feel this should also serve as a call to action to individuals to get their estate plan in order while they still can before these issues come into play.
Source: Two Conflicting Wills Turn a $400 Million Dollar Estate into a Fight, by Tim Newcomb, Time, November 30, 2011.