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More Drama Surrounding Reclusive Huguette Clark Inheritance

Celebrity estate planning and inheritance news often provides a helpful way to discuss basic topics that are applicable to all community members–even those without great wealth. At the end of the day, many of the same principles about proper planning apply to everyone, no matter what their situation in life.

One of the more high-profile celebrity estate planning stories to make headlines in recent years is that of Huguette Clark. Ms. Clark was the heir to a large copper and railroad fortune. She inherited most of the funds from her father, who is known as the founder of Las Vegas. Ms. Clark was an incredibly private individual, living most of the last decades of her life in a hospital room–even though she was well enough to not need medical care. She passed away in May of 2011 at the age of 104. However, even though it has been over a year and a half since her passing, the details of her inheritance are not entirely resolved.
She had no spouse or children but did have a network of extended family. Though if she was at all close with anyone in her family remains unclear.

At the time of her passing her fortune was estimated to be worth $300-$400 million. As you might expect,
in the aftermath of her passing, many different interests dove in, attempting to receive a share of the fortune. This is where proper estate planning makes all the difference. With airlight legal arrangements taken care of ahead of time, the in-fighting and prolonged feuding can be eliminated.

In Ms. Clark’s case, there seems to be conflicting information about the scope of her planning. In particular, two wills exist which were signed six weeks apart. The older will leaves most of the fortune to her extended family, the subsequent will leaves the family nothing. In general, the latter will would apply,
but many red flags have been raised questioning the force that will be applied to the second will. For one thing, tens of millions of dollars in gifts were given to her nurse, doctor, and the hospital itself in the last years of her life.

The most recent drama in the event involves the passing of one of the extended family members who stood to receive nearly $20 million if the first will was upheld. According to a Huffington Post report, the man–a half-great nephew of the heiress–was apparently homeless, and died of exposure last week.
Now, if necessary, his share would either be doled out according to his own will (if he had one) or given to his siblings. This situation is a reminder of the need to be vigilant about updating wills and other legal documents if necessary. It is not at all uncommon for individuals to leave bequests to individuals who have passed away. When this lapse occurs, then the bequest will either go to the deceased-beneficiary’s heirs or revert back to the estate of the testator (the person making the will). In California the difference generally hinges on whether the beneficiary was a legal family member of the testator.

Even seemingly simple estate matters may come with a range of confusing and tricky complications.
That is why it is important to visit with an estate planning attorney for tailored advice on these and other matters.

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