The Problem with Executing Two Successive Wills
Sept. 16, 2013
…is that your family will fight over the money in your estate. This appears to be happening right now in New York to the deceased multimillionairess Huguette Clark.
The problem with this estate arose, as is so often the case, toward the end of the decedent’s life. Ms. Clark, the daughter of copper magnate and Montana Senator, William Andrews Clark, and a private person to begin with, lived the last decades of her life in a New York hospital surrounded by her care-providers but largely estranged from her distant relatives.
In 2005, Clark executed two successive wills within six weeks. The first will was garden-variety, leaving the bulk of her estimated $300 million dollar estate to her surviving albeit distant family members; a collection of grandnieces, grandnephews, great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews, all of whom apparently have standing as heirs-at-law in New York to challenge the probated will.
In the suspicious second will, hastily executed just 6-weeks after the first, Ms. Clark apparently had a sudden and massive change of heart, leaving the bulk of her estate to her lawyer, her accountant, and her care provider, and establishing a foundation for the arts with generous funding. The second will contains the following language of disinheritance:
I intentionally make no provision in this may Last Will Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years. The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my Estate are the true objects of my bounty.
The collection of 20 distant relatives are not taking this second will sitting down; they have lawyered-up, Manhattan style. Discovery in the case, largely consisting of desperate attempts by the family member litigants to prove their paper thin contacts with the wealthy decedent, has been completed and a jury is scheduled to be selected tomorrow.
Greed abounds on both sides of the caption in this case. Did Ms. Clark really intend to disinherit her family members in favor of her lawyer and accountant? What was the nature of the contact between Ms. Clark and her distant relatives? Did she even know who they were?
The moral of this tale is to make a viable well-thought-out estate plan early in life. As things in your life change, and perhaps you acquire a larger estate, amendments to your estate plan can be executed.
All too often, we see professionals take advantage of their elderly clients, putting themselves in a position of financial gain through undue influence.
Contact our law firm for a free estate planning consult and you can avoid the type of litigation that now threatens to define Ms. Clark’s once proud legacy.