Battle over Multi Million Dollar Fortune Left behind by Heiress to Copper Fortune

Huguette M. Clark, the youngest daughter of William Andrews Clark, died in May 2011. Prior to her death, there had been some media coverage that described the extremely reclusive life she lived. Some even wondered if she was still alive.

A child born of the second marriage of Clark, who was a mining tycoon and former senator, Huguette inherited a fifth share of her father’s vast fortune after he passed away in 1925. Clark was once one of the top two richest men in America after striking it rich in copper.  An older sister of Huguette had died several decades ago at the age of 16. She had several half-siblings.

Who was Huguette M. Clark?

Within the decade after her father’s death, Ms. Clark was rarely, if ever, seen in public. Clark had been briefly married, less than two years, from 1928-1930. No children were born of that union. From the point of sometime after her divorce, Huguette lived with her mother, Anna, most of her life in a lavish New York City apartment.

Ms. Clark, an artist, chose to live a mysterious and isolated life. After Anna’s passing in 1963, she seemingly became even more reclusive.

The Clark family fortune

Approximately a year after those initial articles were published that outlined the heiress’ life and the mystery surrounding her lifestyle, it was reported Clark had passed away shortly before her 105th birthday.

At that time, the big question was who would inherit her vast multi-million dollar fortune?

Already, the courts had been involved regarding suspicion of Clark’s attorney and accountant. Those charges were later dismissed due to no evidence to charge either with a crime.

However, it wouldn’t be long before another court situation would emerge.

Initial media reports described her fortune as being worth somewhere in the realm of $500,000,000. Current media reports provide estimates closer to $300,000,000. This includes three expansive estates in New York, California and Connecticut that had all long been abandoned, yet still carefully maintained.

The story of two wills

Reportedly, Ms. Clark had put into effect a will [PDF] in March 2005. In this will, various family members would inherit her wealth, although specific people were not named. Many, if not all, of the surviving family members of the Clark family are related to Huguette through her father’s first marriage.  

However, six weeks later a second will was written and executed in April 2005. This will changed all of the beneficiaries written the previous month. Recipients in the new will included:

• Christopher Sattler, Clark’s personal assistant
• Henry Singman, primary doctor
• Wallace Bock, attorney
• Wanda Styka , a Goddaughter of Ms. Clark
• Irving Kamsler, her accountant
• Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, where Clark lived the last 20 years of her life
• Hadassah Peri, Clark’s longtime private nurse, would receive the heiress’ rare doll collection and 60 percent of whatever was left over after the other bequests were made

A large bulk of the fortune was also designated to go to the arts. Various institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, would benefit. Additionally, Ms. Clark outlined she wanted the creation of a new arts’ foundation called the Bellosguardo Foundation, named after her California estate. The newly created foundation would receive her massive, and unused, oceanfront estate in addition to other assets. Clark had not visited the multi-million dollar property in over 50 years.

“I intentionally make no provision in this my Last Will Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years. The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my estate are the true objects of my bounty,” Clark’s second had stated [PDF].

Protests of the second will lead to legal action

Numerous distant family members immediately challenged the second will. And a court case was initiated by 20 of Ms. Clark’s grandnephews, grandnieces, great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces. Most of these individuals she never met or hadn’t seen in numerous decades; media reports indicate this would have been in the 1950s or 1960s. Although a handful had reportedly tried to touch base with her over the years, no one knew she was living at the hospital.

The family said Ms. Clark was a very private person and they did not want to impose and/or they wanted to respect her wishes to remain in seclusion.

The family members contested the second will saying Ms. Clark was not competent and was exploited by people who kept her dependent and vulnerable. These accusations were directed towards most of the people listed as beneficiaries in the second will.

The second group of beneficiaries insist Ms. Clark was a stubborn and strong-willed individual, stating the heiress made her own decisions and never was coerced into anything.

The will, had reportedly been drawn up by Bock, along with Kamsler’s input. The will named the attorney and the accountant as executor. Both men, along with Ms. Clark’s California lawyer, were designated as directors of the new foundation, which would pay a handsome salary.

Many of the recipients of the second will had also received numerous gifts over the years from Huguette Clark. Some of these were quite generous.

Sattler, the personal assistant to Clark, reportedly disputed the family’s argument Clark was being kept isolated intentionally.

“The time in the hospital actually resocialized Mrs. Clark — she became less of a recluse,” Mr. Sattler said, according to a New York Times report. “Not by much, but she enjoyed the traffic of humanity for the first time in 50 years.”

A proposed settlement

In this expansive and complex legal case, a tentative settlement has been proposed in September 2013.

According to CNBC News, in this proposal, the relatives would inherit about $34 million. Her nurse would not get the vast sum awarded, and would have to even pay back $5 million of the $31 million she had been bequeathed outside of the will. The attorney and accountant would get nothing. Some of the recipients would get what was bequeathed in the second will.

The new foundation would remain intact, as directed by Clark, and this includes the pricey California estate.  And all of the attorneys representing each individual involved in the major lawsuit would get paid legal fees out of the estate. According to the Washington Post, 16 law firms are involved.


There are complications, however, because this settlement assumed the IRS would forgive past due penalties that were accrued by Ms. Clark’s generosity. There are reportedly tens of millions of dollars in penalties. This creates other controversy because if the IRS aims to collect the penalty money, the California estate might be sold, which would violate Ms. Clark’s wishes of it being preserved.

“It’s apparent that Ms. Clark kept Bellosguardo in immaculate condition for the last 50 years even without visiting,”  said current mayor of Santa Barbara, Helene Schneider, “To me that means she cared deeply about this community. I sincerely hope that Ms. Clark’s genuine wishes are reflected in any final judgment.” (courtesy CNBC)

In the end, most of this scenario was agreed upon, but there might be additional legal battles due to the art foundation being set up a bit differently than Ms. Clark had outlined, as NBC News reports.

Additional reading:

“Book details mysterious life of Huguette Clark”, Danbury News-Times, Sept. 2013