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A second will? That's sum development

Months after the death of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark in a New York City hospital, a second will pertaining to her $400-million estate has surfaced in court documents.

November 28, 2011|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
  • A second will has surfaced pertaining to the $400-million estate of Huguette Clark, shown here in 1930. The reclusive heiress died last May at the age of 104.
A second will has surfaced pertaining to the $400-million estate of Huguette… (Associated Press )

Months after the death of a reclusive 104-year old heiress, the legal skirmishes over her $400-million estate come down to a battle of wills — two of them.

Huguette Clark died in May in the New York City hospital where she had lived for at least 20 years. In her 2005 will, she left large sums to a few people — including about $34 million to her nurse — and asked that her Santa Barbara mansion be turned into an art museum.

On Monday, however, a second will surfaced in court documents. It was signed just six weeks before the will that was previously made public and didn't mention anything about a museum. Instead, it left everything to 21 distant relatives who are now accusing Clark's longtime attorney and accountant of "plundering" her holdings.

That's a marked contrast from the later will, which specified that no money go to her family members, with whom she had "minimum contacts" over the years.

What caused such a dramatic change of heart in such a short period is unknown.

But in a filing with New York Surrogate's Court, the relatives' attorney, John R. Morken, wrote of "alleged deceit, undue influence and exploitation of a very elderly and extraordinarily wealthy woman at the hands of two professionals who, with the help of certain others, took control of her life, isolated her from family, and ultimately stripped her of her free will, as well as millions of dollars."

A group of family members made the same charges last year but failed to convince a New York judge that attorney Wallace Bock and accountant Irving H. Kamsler were helping themselves to Clark's fortune. However, after a series of reports on msnbc.com, New York prosecutors opened an investigation that is ongoing, according to Morken.

Attorneys for both men have said they did nothing wrong and always acted in Clark's best interest.

But relatives, who said Bock kept them from visiting their great-aunt, were skeptical — and not just for financial reasons, according to Morken.

"Even of greater concern to them is the family's heritage," he wrote.

Huguette Clark's father was copper baron and former Montana Sen. William Andrews Clark. She grew up in privilege and at her death still owned apartments in one of Fifth Avenue's most elegant buildings, a large home in New Canaan, Conn., artworks that included a painting from Monet's "Water Lilies" series, and a 23-acre bluff-top estate in Santa Barbara called Bellosguardo —Italian for "beautiful view."

By all accounts, it had been at least 50 years since she last set foot in Bellosguardo, a home with formal gardens that was maintained by a live-in manager. In her more recent will, she directed that a foundation be set up to run the new museum, with Bock and Kamsler operating it.

That arrangement, the relatives said Monday, would allow the pair unfettered access to much of Clark's fortune. Even as Clark's executors, the men would make more than $20 million in commissions, according to Morken.

Clark outlived her six brothers and sisters. She was divorced in 1930 and had no children.

Settlement of the conflict over her estate is expected to take several years.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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