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Settlement places heiress's California home in arts foundation

Financial elder abuse can be prevented by a carefully-crafted estate plan, provided the documents are in place while an individual is relatively young and healthy. Wills drafted in advanced age can invite legal contests among heirs and beneficiaries.

Huguette Clark came from "old money" and a lot of it. Clark inherited $300 million from her mining mogul father, some of which she used to purchase a California mansion and other magnificent homes.

The extremely private heiress outlived all her close relatives. By choice, she spent the last 20 years of her long life in a hospital. About five years before she died in 2011, Clark created two distinctly opposite wills.

One will stipulated the majority of Clark's vast fortune should go to distant family members. Less than six weeks later, a second will left instructions to split the estate among completely different beneficiaries, including art institutions.

Huguette's family members petitioned a probate court in 2010, questioning the activities of the estate's two managers. Relatives felt the administrators and Clark's caregivers took advantage of the heiress's advanced age and declining health. The assertions were never proven to be true.

A trial for resolving problems with the Clark immense estate was averted with the approval of a settlement that combined some elements of both wills. Twenty of Clark's relatives will share more than $34 million. The $85 million California mansion will become part of an estimated $100 million arts foundation. Ten million was set aside for a Washington art gallery.

Clark's long-time nurse and the disputed estate managers were cut out of the inheritance. The nurse also was ordered to forfeit $5 million of $30 million in gifts given to the caregiver by Huguette while the heiress was alive.

Age can diminish the ability of an individual to make sounds decisions about finances. Early estate planning greatly reduces chances for legal disputes and elder financial fraud.

Source: usatoday.com, "Heiress Huguette Clark's will settled, with $300M at stake" No author given, Sep. 24, 2013

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