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Dispute involving estate of copper a reminder of cost of estate disputes

Some time ago, we wrote about the estate of the late copper heiress Huguette Clark, whose estate became a point of contention between the public administrator in charge of winding down the estate and her caretakers, who were accused of taking advantage of Clark in her old age. Clark’s $300 million estate is still now being disputed, because of two wills signed six years before her death in 2011.

In her first will, Clark left most of her wealth to 21 distant relatives she did not know and may never have met. The second, signed a month after, increased a bequest to Clarke’s caretaker, bequeathed money to her goddaughter and set up a foundation at her mansion in Sana Barbara, California for her art and doll collection. Those distant relatives received nothing in that will. Those two wills have become the center of contention in a protracted dispute.

Whenever such cases arise, it is worth seeing what regular folks can learn from them. While the money involved is much greater than it would be for many of us, the lessons still apply. In this case, there is the issue of distant relatives receiving wealth from somebody they never met. Other issues that can arise to present will disputes are treating children differently, and disinheriting children or spouses.

Preventing will disputes is an important part of estate planning, since such battles can be costly both in terms of money and emotional energy. There are various precautions one can take in estate planning to reduce the possibility of a will contest, of course, and these are well worth pursuing. It isn’t always possible to completely reduce the possibility, though.

Source: New York Times, “How to Avoid an Estate Battle After You Die,” Paul Sullivan, June 14, 2013.