Huguette Clark's Relatives Say She Couldn't Possibly Have Meant to Stiff Them

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Just because Huguette Clark opted to cut them out of her life, her distant relatives don't believe they should also be cut out of her will, and they've filed a motion in a New York court saying she did not understand what she was doing when she excluded them. In the Monday filing, the extended family members claimed Clark was incompetent to make the will, didn't know the "nature, extent or value of her assets," and may have been coerced by her attorney and accountant. Clark died last May at age 104. Of course nobody with even the most tentative claim to that inheritance was going to leave a fortune estimated at $400 million sitting on the table, even if its late owner expressly excluded them from inheriting anything.

"I intentionally make no provision in this my Last Will Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years," the heiress of copper baron and Montana Sen. William A. Clark wrote in her will on April 19, 2005. Instead, she left the bulk of her fortune to her nurse, Hadassah Peri, who received 60 percent of Clark's estate after various contributions to charities and other staffers were doled out. Clark also bequeathed Peri her doll collection, thought to be worth millions. She left another 25 percent of her estate to her goddaughter, Wanda Styka. And 15 percent went to a foundation she directed to be set up, called the Bellosguardo Foundation, to which she also left her Santa Barbara mansion of the same name, and all the contents of that home and her massive apartment on New York's Upper East Side. 

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That decision did not go over well with the group of 20 distant relatives, mostly half-grandnephews and half-grandnieces, that filed a motion with the New York County Surrogates Court arguing that Clark's 2005 will was null and void. The motion claims that Clark "did not know the nature, extent, or value of her assets, was not in sound mind or memory, and was not mentally capable of making a will, and, among other things, lacked the clearness of mind necessary to understand the nature and contents of her will." They also claim Clark did not "freely and voluntarily" make her will, rather writing it with the "undue influence" of Peri, Clark's lawyer Wallace Bock, and Clark's accountant Irving Kamsler, who together "destroyed the free agency of the decedent." They also allege fraud on Peri, Bock, and Kamsler's part, and call for a jury trial.

The filing makes no mention of a second will, which court documents in November claimed Clark had written just six weeks before the April 19, 2005 version, that allegedly left her relatives almost the entire fortune. We've reached out to the lawyers representing Clark's relatives, and haven't heard back from them so far, but we'll update this story when we do. Update (5:58 p.m. EST): John Morken, an attorney for Clark's relatives, said the filing Monday was just a basic list of objections to Clark's will, and that the surrounding facts and circumstances such as the earlier will wouldn't enter into the proceedings until later.

As for Bock and Kamsler, they've been basically sidelined in the battle over the will after a judge suspended them as its administrators in late December. The New York Daily News wrote at the time that "Manhattan Surrogate Court Judge Kristin Booth Glen ruled that accountant Irving Kamsler and attorney Wallace Bock “violated the rules of professional conduct” while overseeing Clark’s massive fortune, were 'dishonest to authorities' and are 'unfit to serve.' " Bock and Kamsler administered Clark's money and her affairs during the last 14 years of her life, most of which she spent alone in a Manhattan hospital room.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.