Senior woman contemplating

In the last decades of Huguette Clark’s life, much of her $300 million fortune was spent and her valuable belongings sold. The best-selling book Empty Mansions is full of intrigue, deception and, ultimately, tragedy — when she finally died at 104 years old, Clark’s end-of-life wishes were challenged by relatives, and many of Clark’s millions went to lawyers instead funding a charity.

Fox Business recently published an interview with the book’s author, Bill Dedman, titled “How an Elderly Heiress Lost Her $300 Million Fortune.”

Huguette Clark was the heiress to a copper mining fortune worth $300 million. However, by the time she passed away, much of the money was gone and the rest of it was lost in the battle over Clark’s estate. Despite Clark expressly not wanting to leave her fortune to her distant relatives, they got some of it anyway by challenging her will in court.

The full story is detailed in the book Empty Mansions.

Nevertheless, the Fox Business article contains a list of estate planning lessons for those who do not want to repeat Clark’s mistakes.

The list of “mistakes” to avoid includes:

  • Signing a will or trust is not a substitute for a full estate plan. Estate plans need to be comprehensive and flexible.
  • Do not leave a fortune to a new charitable foundation. Clark wanted to leave her fortune to charity. However, because the charitable foundation was created in her will, that foundation was not represented in challenges to her will.
  • If you plan to cut out your relatives, take the proper steps to make your estate plan more bulletproof. Clark left her will open to challenges from the very people she was trying to disinherit.
  • Do not leave assets to your attorney or accountant. You should always have your estate plan prepared by people who do not have a stake in it.

This list contains very practical advice everyone planning his or her estate should heed, even if you do not have a copper mining fortune to pass along.

An experienced estate planning attorney can navigate you through the entire process to accomplish your objectives.

Reference: Fox Business (February 19, 2015) “How an Elderly Heiress Lost Her $300 Million Fortune.”

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.