The California estate of Hugette Clark remains unresolved two years after the 104-year-old woman's death. Multiple parties, including relatives of the last descendent of a $300 million copper mining fortune never knew, are disputing two wills Clark left behind.
A probate court will decide this fall whether Clark died without a valid will. In that case, a court-appointed estate administration would be required. Clark was 98 when she signed the first will and, a month later, a second will. The asset distribution terms within the documents are entirely different.
The first will contained instructions to split Clark's vast fortune among 21 relatives so distant that she could not name them. The second will had no mention of the relatives.
The second document ordered the estate to be shared by a caregiver, a goddaughter and a yet-to-be established $125 million foundation at one of Clark's three mansions. The foundation at the Santa Barbara property would contain Clark's massive doll and art collections, minus a $25 million Monet painting which would be donated to a museum.
Depending on a probate court's ruling, the relatives could receive everything or nothing that Clark left behind. Should that occur, the relatives' portion of the estate might be severely depleted by estate taxes and legal expenses.
Disputes center on Clark's soundness of mind when she signed the wills. In most cases, a six-year gap between the creation of a will and death would not raise red flags. Clark's mental capacity at 98 could be questioned.
The way estate plans are designed and worded can prevent family members and other beneficiaries from wasting time and money on needless litigation. Provisions included within wills like no-contest clauses can help discourage legal challenges.
A well-established revocable trust discourages legal claims and shields assets from probate. To avoid further problems, attorneys often recommend naming someone other than a family member as the trustee of a revocable trust.
Source: nytimes.com, "How to Avoid an Estate Battle After You Die" Paul Sullivan, Jun. 14, 2013