In 2011, Huguette Clark, wife of the late Senator Andrew Williams Clark, a copper magnate, died at the amazing age of 104. Huguette had three apartments on New York’s Fifth Avenue, a mansion in Connecticut and a home in California. And for the last 20 years of her life she lived in none of them. Where did she live? In a plainly decorated hospital room. What illness did she have? None. She wasn’t sick. But I guess you could say that she was well cared for—by her nurse. Huguette ended up giving her nurse ample gifts during her lifetime. And we’re not talking a FitBit or an annual subscription to Nutrisystem here. $30 million in gifts. Whoa! Not your typical gift giving, right? And that’s exactly what the courts were thinking after she died. At death, Huguette proved to be a true saint by not only leaving more money to her nurse but she included her accountant and lawyer in her Will too. God bless her. I could just hug her! Uh umm … ok, let me clean the coffee spill off my shirt and get real (bummer).
Anyway a legal battle ensued after she died claiming she was under duress and of unsound mind. I mean, she would have to be, right? Leaving money to her accountant?? Well, authorities determined that none of this was the case and sources say that she was eccentric, capable, lucid and generous. That still didn’t prevent a lawsuit though. In the settlement not only did the nurse get nothing but she had to pay back $5 million. And the hospital which was slated to receive $1 million got zip. Yep, the relatives, many of whom Huguette did not know or barely knew at all, all twenty of them, got $34.5 million to split among them. Oh, and their lawyers got $11.5 million (I knew there had to be silver lining in here somewhere). Another $200 million + went to charity.
So what’s the lesson here? First, find a way to become eccentric and then give all your money away (but pass on making a hospital your permanent 20 year residence). Second, get in place extra legal documentation of your capacity and intention if you’re doing something freaky like Huguette. Whether your estate is $50 million or half a million dollars if it’s not going to the family make sure you get that extra documentation. And third, pay your experienced, competent estate planning lawyer for his or her services up front so that some other lawyer doesn’t collect millions challenging your estate down the road (ok, maybe just thousands). And then watch your lawyer cry as you give your estate to other, more noteworthy, charity cases.