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Two wills spark challenge for heiress' millions

By creating wills and trusts as part of estate planning, the aim is to make sure that a person's final wishes are made clear and made good in the event of death. If the language of the tools isn't clear or if other issues surface, it can lead to confusion. And that can lead to legal battles. Something experienced estate lawyers in New Jersey strive to avoid.

Across the river to the east, there is just such a battle raging over the estate of one Huguette Clark. The name may not be familiar to many, but money talks. And her $400 million estate is sparking some significant discussions in Manhattan Surrogates Court.

The childless Clark died in May of this year. She was 105. She hadn't been seen in public for many years and there are reports that she had been living in seclusion at a New York City hospital, though she was not apparently ill. Her affairs were being handled by her lawyer and accountant.

At the heart of the legal contest now under way are two wills. One dated March 7, 2005, leaves $5 million to Clark's nurse. The rest of the money goes to 21 distant, but living, Clark relatives. The second, dated April 19, 2005, leaves most of the money to a private foundation that is administered by Clark's lawyer and accountant.

The second will also grants huge sums of money to the nurse, a doctor, a friend, a goddaughter and some Clark friends.

In the filing with the court, the relatives note that the second will was drafted by the law firm at which Clark's attorney is a partner. That has raised ethics questions among some legal experts who say a trust would have been appropriate. The family also accuses Clark's attorney and accountant of coercing their client into signing the new will and then plundering the estate.

As examples, they point to the fact that Clark's prized doll collection, estimated to be worth $30 million, was given to the nurse. Executor roles were given to the attorney and accountant, putting them into positions that would allow them to make millions in fees. The family is also questioning accounting that shows that Clark's two guardians spent about $1 million a month while they had control of her accounts.

There's been no comment from either Clark's attorney, or the accountant.

Source: New York Daily News, "New will battle over Huguette Clark file will that left them everything weeks before they were cut out," Barbara Ross, Tracy Connor, Nov. 28, 2011

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