Recently, a strange case of estate planning has left some individuals asking questions and wondering about their own wills. A multi-millionaire heiress has died, leaving behind a vast fortune for her family to fight over as allegations fly that the elderly woman was manipulated into leaving her fortune to outsiders and cheating family out of what they deem is their inheritance.
The 104-year-old woman, Huguette Clark, never married or had children, and opted to live in a hospital room for decades while her sprawling mansions and extensive Fifth-Avenue apartment remained empty. Her residence in a hospital may explain why she opted to divide up her fortune between doctors and nurses, as well as a lawyer, accountant, museum and art foundation. Yet her family members are fuming, claiming she was manipulated in her elderly years. They're now heading into court for what they believe is their due inheritance. All but one relative, that is.
The heiress did bequeath a substantial amount of money -- undisclosed, but estimated to be millions of dollars -- to her half-great-nephew. In a tragic twist of fate however, the man, a transient, was found dead of hypothermia before he could receive any portion of the heiress' $300 million estate. The homeless man was found by kids sledding near a Wyoming train station. He was wearing only a light jacket in 10-degree weather. Police say there was no sign of foul play.
The half-great-nephew had once worked in the Rockies as a cowboy. He had no wife or children and had lost contact with his siblings years prior to his death. Yet one interesting item found in his wallet was a cashier's check dated 2003 for what was called "a significant amount" of money.
Most of us are safe knowing our families won't be arguing over hundreds of millions of dollars after we're gone. But conflicts can arise in the administration of any estate after a loved one passes, particularly if there's any question of whether that relative was of sound mind when he or she made final plans for the estate. That's why it's important to be as clear as possible in drafting a will, living trust or other estate planning documents, and to work with a professional you trust. Making plans now can eliminate any doubt about your state of mind, which will lessen the chances of litigation over your property and assets.
Source: New York Post, "Homeless heir to Huguette Clark's $19M fortune found dead in Wyoming," Jeane MacIntosh, Dec. 31, 2012
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