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/ )


6 thoughts on “Update – Huguette Clark and undue influence

  1. I find the poor-little-rich-girl story so sad. Her name is Huguette, she’s an heiress, she lived hidden away in a hospital room, surrounded by her childhood dolls–if we pitched this as fiction, it would sound over the top.

    The concept of undue influence is disturbing–and doesn’t apply to heiresses only. I was not familiar with this story until you blogged about it, but now I am a follower. Thanks!

    • Ramona, you’re right — though virtually everything connected with the Copper Kings is over the top! The way she shut herself off from the world, seemingly beginning her retreat in childhood when her sister died, only to later have that isolation apparently used to isolate her further, invade her fortune, and deprive her of her free will even in death — so very sad.

      I think the concept of undue influence can be used very effectively in fiction, without being as extreme as this case.

    • Bill, my original post DOES link to your stories. (Follow the link within this update to my original post.) They are powerful — thank you for your investigation.

      • Thanks, Leslie, but most of the facts in your two posts have come (directly or indirectly) from reporting by msnbc.com, which is mentioned in neither.

        • Bill, my apologies. The original reporting by msnbc.com was picked up by several papers here in Montana, and alerted me to the story in 2010. The local papers are now running AP stories on later developments. I’ll had a reference to you and msnbc.com in both posts. If msnbc.com does followup stories, Bill, I hope you’ll let me know, either directly or on the blog.

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