New York — Heiress Huguette Clark had an amazing and long life. She was born in 1906 and died in 2011, just before she would have turned 105. While she is remembered as a recluse, those that spent time with her knew her as a generous and giving soul. However, in the wake of her death there are two different last-will-and-testaments that would divide her over $300 million fortune in very different ways, yet it seems a tentative deal may have been struck between the parties.
Ms Clark was the last surviving direct descendant of U.S. Senator William Andrews Clark. Senator Clark initially made his money in copper mines in Montana, the state he sat for. As his business interests grew, he built the Western rail line and established a Nevada rail town called Los Vegas. Incidentally, all of Clark County, which Los Vegas is a part of, is named after Senator Clark.
Ms Clark spent her childhood in Paris, Santa Barbara California, as well as a mansion on New York’s Firth Avenue. She was a graduate of Miss Spence’s School, now known as the Spence School, and was briefly married in her 20s. The marriage did not last and there were no children produced, nor did she ever remarry there after.
While the majority of her life is still shrouded in a kind of mystery, Bill Dedman did write a book about her Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. A work that sheds light on the life of this extraordinary woman.
Regardless, the end of Ms Clark’s life found her taking up residence in Beth Israel Medical Center located in Manhattan for her last 20 years. While it seems that Ms Clark was originally admitted, at the age of 85, for a case of severe skin cancer that disfigured her face in 1991. After being treated and receiving plastic surgery, Ms Clark decided not to return to her grand apartments on Firth Avenue; instead deciding to stay at the hospital.
Despite the cost of remaining at Beth Israel Medical Center, about $400,000 per year, it seems that Ms Clark wanted more people around her than her reclusive lifestyle previously permitted. Whatever the reasons may have been, Ms Clark remained for the rest of her life within the care of this particular institution. Which she did shades drawn, door closed, playing with dolls, and watching cartoons (her favorite, apparently, being The Smurfs).
It was in Beth Israel, back in 2005, that two wills were crafted five weeks apart. The first will left the bulk of Ms Clark’s $300 million and estate to her family — which consists of 20 grandnieces, grandnephews, great-grandnieces, and great-grandnephews from Senator Clark’s first marriage. The second will left the bulk of Ms Clark’s estate to a newly created arts foundation and various people around her, leaving about $5 million to her relatives. The people she left money to being her nurse, doctor, lawyer, accountant, and various people she encounter during her time at Beth Israel.
Even though her family had no idea that Ms Clark was at Beth Israel for the last 20 years of her life, a fact they admitted to in court, and that the vast majority of her relatives had never meet her; they decided to contest the second will. Their argument was that she was unduly influenced by the doctors, lawyers, and accountants that had access to her and, thus, convinced her to leave them money and cut the family out.
Since Ms Clark’s death in 2011, the will has been in contention, and after initial negotiations for a settlement broke down, the case was going to go before the court. As the jury was being selected for the lawsuit that her relatives had filed, the Judge in the case told potential jurors that the trial could take up to 8 weeks. With the fact that most New Yorkers had heard of the case and that many were not willing to serve on a jury for that length of time, jury selection was becoming a tedious affair.
During the jury selection process, negotiations between all involved parties resumed, and a tentative settlement was reached by the New York State attorney general’s office over the course of the last few days. Perhaps a lasting deal has been struck to distribute the NY heiress’ $300 million fortune.
As reported by the New York Times, “Under the settlement, the family would get about $34.5 million after taxes. Mrs. Clark’s lawyer, Wallace Bock, and accountant, Irving Kamsler, would get nothing; her nurse, Hadassah Peri, would get nothing and would have to give back $5 million, according to lawyers involved in the case. Mr. Bock, Mr. Kamsler and Mrs. Peri would be able to keep gifts that Mrs. Clark had left them while she was alive — in Mrs. Peri’s case, more than $30 million worth.”
Some of the gifts Mrs. Peri was given, that she will likely be able to keep, include the many Manhattan apartments owned by Ms Clark, as well as a Stradivarius violin worth $1.2 million.
Additionally, Beth Israel would receive $1 million and her doctor, Henry Signman, would be able to keep the $100,000 left to him. Sources indicate that the other gifts to the medical center, such as the $3.5 million painting by Edouard Manet (the French pre-Impressionist painter), may be included in another lawsuit since it was given outside the confines of both wills.
The mansion in California, called Bellosguardo, would be left to the art foundation envisioned by the second will; where the majority of Ms Clark’s art, rare books, and instruments would be kept and shown. The Corcoran Gallery of Art, where her father’s collection of art resides, would be given $10 million and Ms Clark’s valuable doll collection, appraised at $1.6 million, would be turned over to Bellosguardo from Mrs. Peri, who it was originally given to.
Though this is a tentative agreement between all parties, it seems likely that it will become finalized in the next few weeks, otherwise it will draw out into a very long court battle.
While the battle for inheritance and large sums of money is somewhat interesting, the life of this reclusive, giving woman seems to be much more interesting in the long term. Either way, it seems that there has been a deal struck to divide this NY heiress’ $300 million.
Written by: Iam Bloom