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Capacity at the heart of Huguette Clark will dispute

We have previously written on this blog about the late New York copper heiress Huguette Clark, the daughter of politician and entrepreneur William A. Clark.  Huguette Clark died in 2011, nearly 105 years old, with roughly $300 million to her name, no direct heirs, and numerous individuals who wanted a piece of the pie.

A recent book written by investigative reporter Bill Dedman details the interactions between Clark and her caretakers and relatives during the last 20 years of her life. The material is, so it is said, directly connected to the question of whether Clark was competent when she executed her second will, and so is of great interest.

Both wills were signed in 2005, when Clark was 98 years of age, and were six weeks apart. The first will specifies that most of her wealth is to go to family members, while the second cuts family out and leaves most of her estate to a foundation for the arts she wanted to create, as well as a disparate group of individuals, including her primary doctor, her accountant, her attorney, and the institution where she lived out the last 20 years of her life.

The key issue in the case, of course, is capacity. And this is a big issue in many disputes over wills. Capacity refers to the ability to legally execute one’s own will. Each state lays out its own requirements for capacity, but these generally include a basic understanding of the assets in question, the beneficiaries the assets are to go to, and the nature of the transaction—that it is a bequest.

In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at the issue of capacity.

Source: New York Times, “The Two Wills of the Heiress Huguette Clark,” Anemona Hartocollis, September 13, 2013.