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Estate of NY copper heiress subject of two separate disputes

The court appointed public administrator for the deceased copper heiress Huguette Clark is reportedly seeking to have recipients return $37 million in gifts. According to the administrator, Clark's caretakers took advantage of her feebleness and exerted undue influence on her to make the gifts. In addition, the administrator has asked for an investigation into whether a hospital where Clark received care should be required to return a $6 million Manet and whether an art gallery in Washington should be required to return a $250,000 donation.

Clark's estate, valued at $400 million, was reportedly left mostly to charity in April 2005, but a will signed six weeks earlier left most of her fortune to her 20 great-nieces and great-nephews. They are reportedly behind a separate dispute over the more recent will.

Some have questioned whether Clark's attorney and accountant did enough to ensure she understood what she was doing, but recipients of the gifts say Clark acted with full knowledge and consent, motivated by generosity toward those who cared for her.

Some major gifts given by Clark, according to the administrator, are in fact valid, such as a $10 million gift to a friend in 2000.

In this case, the court will have to look into whether Clark had the proper capacity to understand what she was giving away, to whom she was giving it, and the nature of the transaction itself. To do this, the court will have to consider whether her gifts were motivated by manipulation or gratitude.

These types of disputes are exactly the kind that good estate planning works to decrease. Because they can be time-consuming, costly and frustrating, it is important to find ways to diminish the possibility of these disputes arising. Working with an experienced attorney is immensely helpful toward this end.

Source: Fox News, "Court official seeks to reclaim millions in gifts left by reclusive copper heiress," June 17, 2012

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