The process of distributing a person’s money, property, investments and other assets after he or she has passed away can become very contentious for family members and loved ones. People who avoid making a specific and executable estate plan often make matters worse. This can be especially true when the assets that a person has left behind are quite substantial.
Even if a person does have some type of will in place, there are no guarantees that it will not be challenged by a person’s family during the probate process. This is the situation that is currently happening with the wills drafted by wealthy copper heiress, Huguette Clark. Thought to be worth about $300 million, Clark recently passed away and left quite a bit of confusion and resentment when two very different wills were identified.
The first will was drafted in 2005, and distributed much of her fortune, including property in California, to various family members, even though she was reportedly very private and had little contact with any person in family. In fact, some of them had never even met Clark in person.
But just six weeks after that will was executed, it was discovered that Clark had executed a second will. In the second will, she excluded her family altogether and instead named her nurse, physician, accountant, attorney, goddaughter and the medical center where she had lived for about 20 years before her death as beneficiaries.
The two wills could not be more different, so it is not surprising that the relatives who were cut out of the second will challenged the validity of it in court. They argue that Clark was persuaded by the other parties to change her will and leave nothing to her family.
However, those named in the second will maintain that Clark would have never made changes to her will that she did not want. They argue that Clark was ignored and abandoned by her family, and she felt closer with the people who cared for her until the end of her life.
The two sides are currently working on a settlement, but may end up having to go to trial and have a jury decide what will happen to Clark’s assets. Rather than risk this same fate, people in California can work with an attorney to develop a comprehensive estate plan and make sure that their wishes are properly and effectively communicated.
Source: The New York Times, “The Two Wills of the Heiress Huguette Clark,” Anemona Hartocollis, Sept. 13, 2013