In our previous post, we spoke about disturbing new details that have emerged in the ongoing dispute over the estate of the late copper heiress Huguette Clark. At issue in the case are two separate wills and the question of whether there may have been undue influence upon the elderly woman when she decided to disinherit her relatives and increase a bequest to her caretaker.
Undue influence, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence in cases involving disputed wills. The kind of relationship involved in such cases is one in which a vulnerable person is exploited by an individual who has a certain amount of power of him or her. Those who act as caretakers, legal advisors, or in another similar capacity for such individuals must observe a high degree of propriety in order to avoid improper appearances.
In terms of capacity, it will have to be decided in this case whether Clark had sufficient capacity to execute a will in 2005. If not, neither of her wills would be valid and her estate would pass under the laws of intestate succession. Or perhaps she had sufficient capacity for her first will, but not the second. It doesn’t appear that the litigation has gone that far yet, but Clark’s attorney and accountant are suspected of potential wrongdoing.
Ultimately, the litigation is a good reminder for all of us of the need to keep our estate plans updated and to select trustworthy professional help. For family, it is a reminder to keep an eye out for the possibility of undue influence upon a loved one and take steps to ensure that they are protected.
Source: Daily Mail Online, “Reclusive heiress Huguette Clark was ‘incoherent and barely able to hold the pen’ when she signed new will excluding her family from $307m fortune,” Rachel Quigley, July 8, 2013.