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Katya Sverdlov Blog

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The battle for the estate of an elderly heiress and the wrong lessons for estate planning

A book (and soon to be a movie) Empty Mansions tells a story about Huguette Clark, a reclusive heiress to a copper mining fortune. Ms. Clark’s father, W.A. Clark, was the founder of Las Vegas and the copper king. His daughter spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital, even though she was healthy.

During the last years of her life, she made large gifts to the people who were taking care of her – nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. After her death, even though she wrote a Will and made it abundantly clear that she did not want her relatives to inherit any of her money, a long estate battle ensued. A lot of her charitable wishes cannot be carried out now because of the millions of dollars that went to lawyers, the unanticipated money that went to relatives, and the millions that had to be paid to the IRS.

There are many lessons from her (botched) estate planning that any good estate planning attorney will explain to a client:

  1. Consider creating a trust and place assets in it during the creator’s life. Trusts are harder to challenge and the information in them is private.

  2. Do not leave bequests to your accountant and your attorney in the will.

  3. Get an independent doctor’s opinion about the competency of the person making the bequest.

  4. Hire a competent accountant and a lawyer who understand the complexities and interplay of estate taxes, basis step up rules and charitable bequests. Estate planning is a very specialized area. A generalist attorney is unlikely to understand all the implications of one’s actions.

 

The information in this blog was adapted from

http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2015/02/19/how-elderly-heiress-lost-her-300-million-fortune/

 

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.


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