Berman & Asbel, LLP

Family, charities, caregivers reach deal in dispute over will

The major stakeholders in a dispute over heiress Huguette Clark's last will and testament have reached a settlement, ending the conflict and leaving a substantial sum to charities that benefit the arts. The conflict originally arose after Ms. Clark passed away and two very different wills executed around the same time were found. The first version left much of her estate to distant relatives with whom she had little or no contact. The second version left gifts to her hospital, caretakers, lawyer, accountant, and established an arts charity. 

There were compelling arguments to support both versions of the will and each was properly executed. The dispute came down to whether caretakers and others who were close to the woman at the end of her life took advantage of her frail state at age 98 when she executed the wills. 

In the end there was no conclusive finding on that issue as the relatives and other potential beneficiaries reached an agreement on how to distribute assets. Under this settlement, a large charity for the arts will be established in Ms. Clark's name and a gallery that had ties to the family in the past will receive a bequest. A group of 20 relatives will also receive gifts under the deal. 

This case shows the importance not just of creating a comprehensive will that allocates all of one's assets, but of providing supporting documentation and perhaps an explanation of the intent of the gifts in order to be sure that potential beneficiaries do not become embroiled in a dispute about your intentions. 

Source: New York Times, "Deal Over Heiress's Two Wills Benefits Charities and Family," Sept. 24, 2013. 

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