Update – Huguette Clark and undue influence

I promised updates to my earlier post about Huguette Clark, the copper heiress with the $400 million fortune who died last spring at 104.

Her long-time accountant and lawyer face challenges to their management of her assets, including claims that they engaged in tax fraud resulting in $90 million in unpaid federal gift taxes and penalties. Both men deny the claims. The accountant resigned his position in mid December.

Last Friday, a Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge held that there was enough evidence to support the claims to suspend both men from further management of the estate.

A couple of notes on terms: The Surrogate’s Court is New York State’s name for the courts that handle cases involving probate of wills, administration of estates, and adoptions, and share jurisdiction with other courts over guardianships. The Surrogate’s Court website has a very helpful FAQ section answering questions about estates and court procedures. Some states call this simply “probate court,” while in others, the cases are handled by the “court of general jurisdiction,” the main trial court, rather than by a specialized court.

Books, Crooks & Counselors discusses the primary role of the public administrator, as the official who takes charge when a person dies with no immediately known will, heirs, or executor and handles the estate until heirs can be found– or if none, to closing. (The executor is also called the administrator or PR, for personal representative.) This case highlights another role of the public administrator: to investigate and prosecute alleged mismanagement by executors and the lawyers and accountants they hire to help administer estates. Of course, the potential heirs have a big role, too–as here, where relatives named in an earlier will but cut out of a later will are challenging it.

Stay tuned.

(The original reporting on the story of Huguette Clark was done by Bill Dedman of msnbc.com. See the two-part story and a photo gallery here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38719231/ns/business-local_business/ )