What makes the situation unique is that Clark, who inherited a giant fortune from her father, a copper baron and one of the richest Americans at the turn of the 20th Century, was a recluse whom people rarely saw. She died at a hospital, where she lived for at least the last two decades, MSNBC.com reports. Now it is likely that her contested will could play out in the news, requiring an experienced New York City probate attorney to sort out the details.
News reports of her reclusive lifestyle, despite owning an estate in Santa Barbera, Calif., a country house in New Canaan, Conn., and a 42-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City in total valued at $225 million -- none of which she lived in -- led to a criminal investigation into how her affairs were being handled by a New York City attorney and accountant. No charges have been filed and both men told news agencies they handled her financial matters according to her wishes.
Last fall, family members went to a New York court asking that a guardian be appointed to look after her assets and well-being after the accountant and attorney banned them from visiting her, MSNBC reports. The attorney has admitted to soliciting a gift of $1.5 million after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks to safeguard his daughter living in Israel, which may be a violation of New York ethics rules.
Huguette Clark's father was a Montana senator at the turn of the century, who struck it rich in copper and real estate. Huguette was only briefly married and never had children. Although she inherited her father's wealth, according to news reports, she rarely used it. Huguette was secluded in hospitals, even when she was healthy. She was guarded by fake names and paid servants.
Many fear the potential for estate fraud and undue influence where an elderly woman who is fabulously rich is being shut off from family members and giving millions of dollars to the people controlling her estate. The probate process is designed, in part, to ensure that an estate is not plundered.
Prior to death in similar cases, Article 81 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law can come into play. Adult guardianship in New York applies when family members believe an older family member cannot manage his or her personal or property affiairs on their own or is susceptible to being victimized by others.
It's important to be represented in Article 81 Guardianship matters by an attorney with decades of experience handling these types of cases. This area of probate and guardianship law in Manhattan and throughout the New York City Courts is complex and it is important to consult with an attorney with the knowledge and experience to assist you through the process.