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Most of us don’t have $300 million to leave behind when we pass on. But for those who do, it’s no surprise when there’s a fight over their wills. And when they leave most of their estate to charities and caretakers instead of family members? Bring on the trusts and estates lawyers.

willA couple of weeks ago, I told you about Huguette Clark, the New York City heiress who died after living for 20 years in a hospital room, treating it almost like a hotel. You may remember that she signed two wills, several weeks apart; in the first, she left her estate to family members, many of whom she had never met. In the second, she specifically excluded her family in favor of charities, employees, and counselors.

Naturally, the family members were upset, even though they admitted they had not taken care of her or, in many cases, even contacted her. A few days ago, they won out, getting the second will’s beneficiaries to agree to a settlement that would give most of the money and property to arts foundations and family members.

Under the terms of the settlement – which a New York judge approved – the largest portion of Clark’s fortune will go to an arts foundation created especially for this purpose. Included in the $100 million gift to the foundation? Her $85 million vacation home (yes, you read that right).

And, to their relief and delight, the oh-so-distant family members who contested the will? They’ll get almost $35 million, some of which will come out of the $5 million that Clark’s nurse returned to the estate, even though Clark gave the nurse the money while Clark was alive.

Not so happy? The lawyer and accountant who were beneficiaries under the second will. According to the terms of the settlement, they not only lose their inheritances, but they cannot serve as executors of the will – and they have to give up the hefty fees that go along with that position.

The lesson? Lawyers and caretakers who even give the appearance of impropriety or undue influence are probably out of luck in will disputes.

 

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