Berman & Asbel, LLP

Dispute over heiress's wishes continues

Although many thought it ended late last year with a settlement agreement, the battle over the rightful beneficiaries of mining heiress Huguette Clarke continues. A nurse who cared for the wealthy recluse overnight for about two decades says that she was left out of settlement agreement talks and denied gifts that the heiress promised her.

The nurse is basing her claim, in part, on verbal promises that the heiress made while the nurse was caring for her. This brings up an interesting element to estate planning, which is the frequent contradiction between verbal or written promises made by a person and the ultimate decisions they make in their will. Many friends or family members may feel that they are entitled to gifts as a result of conversations or letters, but in fact these promises are not binding on the estate and create no legal claim to a gift. The only person entitled to a gift that they were not specifically named to receive is a spouse, or any legal heirs if the assets are passing without a will.

The nurse had previously received significant gifts from Ms. Clark while she was still alive, including valuable real estate and cash gifts. Ms. Clark’s heirs argue that these gifts were the result of undue influence and that the nurse repeatedly requested these gifts while in a position of control over Ms. Clark. They are seeking to have the nurse return those gifts in part or in whole as a part of a counter-suit. 

Source: ABA Journal, “Night nurse for reclusive heiress seeks pieces of $300 million estate,” Mark Hansen, Jan. 10, 2014. 

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