While clashes over who got what and how during someone's lifetime crop up in many will fights, the staggering size, two-decade timeframe and uncommon circumstances distinguish the dispute surrounding [Huguette] Clark's gifts.
Are you planning your estate or perhaps caring for an elderly loved one who is planning his or her own? If yes, then you can learn some important lessons from Huguette Clark’s case, as recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.
In the article, titled “Copper heiress' huge gifts spotlighted in NY court,” Ms. Clark was cast as either an oddball or a thoughtful “eccentric.” Such was the description of one side to the litigation over her estate. The other side, however, painted her as a “poor, manipulated old woman.” In case you haven’t followed the case, Ms. Clark was a wealthy heiress to a copper fortune, and she died recently at the age of 109 after two decades of hospitalization.
Before dying, however, Ms. Clark gave extravagant gifts to her staff:
Her nurse was showered with almost $28 million in gifts, including three Manhattan apartments, two homes elsewhere and a $1.2 million Stradivarius violin. Her doctors' families received more than $3 million in presents. A night nurse received a salary plus money to cover her children's school tuition and to help buy two apartments.
Now, after her death, a court-appointed official has begun to demand the return of these gifts, valued at $37 million, to her $400 million estate. The basis for the demanded return is that the recipients received the gifts through manipulation. The case is ongoing.
When it comes to estate planning, however, old age and wealth are a dangerous combination. Some wealthy seniors are generous by nature, but others kept the first nickel they earned. Regardless, expect extra scrutiny of any gift or inheritance from a wealthy senior when the object of such bounty is not someone with a family tie or a long relational history.
Reference: The San Francisco Chronicle (June 17, 2012) “Copper heiress' huge gifts spotlighted in NY court”