Huguette Clark – the Copper-Clad Saga Continues

I’ve written  before about Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress and daughter of Copper King William Clark, and about the alleged mismanagement of her money and estate.  When she died in the spring of 2011, Huguette left a $400 million fortune and a shroud of mystery.

The investigative reporter who uncovered the story, Bill Dedman of, and a cousin of Huguette’s, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., are writing a book about Huguette and her family, “Empty Mansions: The True Saga of the Copper King W.A. Clark, the Reclusive Heiress Huguette, and Their American Family of Wealth, Scandal and Mystery,” to be published by Ballantine Bantam Dell. (As a descendant of William Clark’s sister, Newell is not an heir to the Clark fortune, which descendants of Clark through his first wife are litigating.)

Dedman and also report that Huguette’s three Manhattan apartments–which she hadn’t lived in for decades–are listed for sale for a combined $55 million, by an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, marketed as “a time capsule from the Gilded Age.” Indeed. Check out the floor plans.  (No photos of Clark’s apartments yet, but here are shots of another apartment available in the same building, for a mere $25 million.) 

It’s like Edith Wharton come to life, with just about as happy an ending as Lily Bart.

And what about the jewels, you ask? Christie’s will auction them on April 17. The pink cushion-cut 9 carat diamond ring, possibly once her mother Anna’s, is estimated to be worth $6-8 million. You’ve got to see the close-ups of the Art Deco emerald and diamond bracelet and the diamond bracelet she wore in her last-known photo.

Honestly, I feel like a voyeur, but I can’t stop looking. And if you’re writing family saga, rich vs. poor, the Gilded Age, early 20th century western history, or any story involving a will contest, undue influence, or the mysterious past, you won’t want to, either.

(Thanks to Bill Dedman of for the updates and photos.)

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 See the two-part story and a photo gallery here: )


Huguette Clark and undue influence

Writers ask me a lot of questions about wills. One of the most common: “what is undue influence?” Short answer: using a confidential relationship or position of authority to induce the testator (the person making the will) to leave his property a certain way or to take unfair advantage of him. A judge can invalidate the entire will or a specific provision.

Like many Montanans, I’m fascinated by the story of Huguette Clark, reclusive daughter of Copper King William Clark.

Her obituary reports that when she died in May 2011 at 104, relatives claimed they had been prevented from seeing her for years, and accused her lawyer and accountant of plundering her estate. (Both are now under investigation by the Manhattan DA’s office.) A will signed in April 2005 left most of her $400 million fortune to her nurse and charity. Now her nieces and nephews have filed a will signed just a month earlier leaving much of money–or what’s left of it–to them.

No doubt the will contest will focus on claims of undue influence. What was her physical and mental condition when she signed the later will? Does the asset distribution demonstrate mental unbalance or influence? What was her relationship with the beneficiaries? Is there evidence of other misdeeds that might have unduly influenced her–like being intentionally isolated from her family? Do the gift of a $10,000 dollhouse to her lawyer’s granddaughter or a $1.5 million security system to the Israeli settlement where his daughter and her family live show a pattern of plunder–or an authentically close relationship? Proof that the lawyer and accountant stripped millions from her accounts during her life, with the potential for millions more in administrative fees after her death, could further support the claims of undue influence.

Hugeuette Clark’s fortune was gilded with copper, though she never lived in Butte, Montana, “the richest hill on earth,” where most of it came from. According to an investigative series by Bill Dedman of in 2010, she lived in a NY hospital the last twenty years of her life–despite owning a $24 million Connecticut estate, a 42-room apartment on Fifth Avenue, and an oceanfront Santa Barbara estate that she hadn’t visited in more than 50 years. She died surrounded by her childhood doll collection.  

It may be that Huguette Clark never recovered emotionally from the death of her older sister in 1919, the scandals that still trail her father, her own divorce in 1930, or a host of other rumors and potential embarrassments.

From life’s tragedies, writers draw inspiration–for the emotional trauma, the telling details, even the ways the law can serve–or be abused.

(Photo of nine-year-old Huguette, right, with her father and sister Andree, taken about 1915, from the Montana Historical Society Photo Archive. Later photo from the Associated Press.)

(The original reporting on the story of Huguette Clark was done by Bill Dedman of See the two-part story and a photo gallery here: )