Category Archives: Wills and Living Trusts

Wills versus living trusts. What is the difference between a will and a living trust?

One person is the biggest loser – Settlement of the Huguette Clark will dispute

Awhile ago we told you about Huguette Clark, a reclusive multimillionaire who died at the age of 104. 

She wrote two wills about six weeks apart.  In the first one, she left the majority of her $300 million estate to her relatives, many of whom she had not seen in many years and some who she had never met.  The second will directly cut out all of her relatives and left $30 million to her private duty nurse, Hadassah Peri, gifts to her lawyers and accountants and funds to create an arts foundation at her $85 million mansion, Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara, CA.

Some of her relatives contested the will, claiming that she had been unduly influenced by her caretakers.  The case was supposed to go to court but, just as jury selection was about to begin, the case was settled out of court.  An 81-page settlement agreement was presented to the judge and was approved.

19 heirs of Huguette Clark will receive $34.5 million with estate taxes and $11.5 million in attorney fees paid by the estate.  Another big winner in the settlement is the charitable arts foundation that will be created to maintain Bellosguardo.

The biggest loser is her nurse.  Hadassah Peri will not receive the $30 million she was given in the first will and, in fact, will have to pay back $5 million of the $31 million she was given during Huguette Clark’s lifetime.

Those of you who read this blog may not have $300 million and so may think that having a good will, written when there is no question of your mental state, may not be that important.  But it is.  Unless you want your family to have to go to court and fight for what they think they deserve, put your wishes in writing NOW and, if possible, share those wishes with your loved ones so they will know what to expect and can ask any questions they may have….while you can still answer them.

For more information about wills and other issues related to end of life planning, go to


Bad mistake made by heiress Huguette Clark

Huguette Clark was an heiress who died in 2011 at age 104.  She left behind a $300 million estate.  The bulk of the money was inherited from her father, a copper tycoon in Montana.   She owned a 23-acre estate near Santa Barbara valued at $100 million, a $24 million house in Connecticut and a $100 million coop on Fifth Ave. in New York.  She was a painter and a collector of rare French and Japanese dolls.  She had no children, no close relatives and only limited contact with any of her distant relations.

She spent the last 20 years of her life living at Beth Israel Medical Center as a recluse, closer to her doctors and nurses than any family.

When she died, the only people who attended her burial were funeral home employees.

What did she do wrong?  She left behind two wills, written just six weeks apart.

The first one left  $5 million to her nurses and the balance of the estate to her distant relatives, even though 14 of the 19 involved said that they had never even met Huguette.

The second will left nothing to the relatives.  It specifically said” I intentionally make no provision…for  any members of my family…having had minimal contact with them over the years.”  Instead, charities are the largest beneficiaries, receiving over 80% of the estate.  Also named was her registered nurse, Hadassah Peri, who would receive $15.3 million after taxes, and a goddaughter who would get $7.9 million.  Lesser beneficiaries included Beth Israel Medical Center, her attorney, her personal assistant, her accountant, property managers and one of her doctors.

In addition to what she was given in the will, her registered nurse received more than $31 million in gifts before Clark died and the estate administrator is asking that the $31 million be returned to the estate.

Family members are claiming that the second will was written under duress when she was mentally ill and incompetent and the victim of fraud by her nurse, attorney and accountant.

Negotiations have been going on for a few years, with 60 attorneys involved in the case.  However, the chance of a settlement is not certain and a jury trial is scheduled to begin in Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan on September 17th.

Huguette Clark should have had better legal counsel when she decided what to do with her sizeable estate.  She should have prepared a trust, including directions on who had the right to make decisions on her behalf when she was unable to do so.  And she probably should have destroyed the first will.

It will be interesting to see what the probate court decides if a settled hasn’t been reached prior to September 17th.

For more information about Hugette Clark and her reclusive life, look for a book being released on September 10th titled “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.”

To learn more about how to plan for the end of your life, go to

A major issue related to divorce of same sex couples – Defeat of DOMA doesn’t solve every problem

Although DOMA has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, there is a major issue related to the divorce of same sex couples.

This issue is exemplified by the plight of Adam Cardinal, a gay man.  More than four years ago, Mr. Cardinal married his love, who happened to be of the same sex.  They were married in New Hampshire where same sex marriages are legal.

The couple subsequently moved to Florida, where their marriage is not considered legal and it is in Florida where the problem arose.

Several months ago, they separated and wanted a divorce.  However, since their marriage was not recognized in Florida, they could not obtain a divorce there.

The other option, returning to New Hampshire where they were married, was not feasible.  Although you just need a short visit to marry in New Hampshire, that state requires at least a one year residency before it will grant a divorce.  Since the former couple did not have the flexibility to pick up their lives and move back to New Hampshire, they are stuck.

They cannot divorce or remarry.  They are in limbo.  If one of them dies in a state where same sex marriage is legal, and he does not have a will, their still legal spouse may inherit everything.  Even though Mr. Cardinal and his spouse did not merge their funds, the lack of legal paperwork signifying the end of their marriage may cause financial issues in the future.

Six of the states that recognize same sex marriage, including Delaware and Vermont, allow nonresident couples who married in the state to divorce under some circumstances, but those circumstances are not clear cut.

DOMA was just recently overturned and a lot of details about the related wide ranging issues remain to be addressed.  States have a lot of work ahead of them as they figure out how to handle all of the specific issues related to same sex marriage and divorce.

To learn more about estate planning and other issues related to end of life issues, go to

Don’t Pay an Inheritance Tax on Your Own Money!

If you live in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey or Pennsylvania beware. These states tax your inheritance, no matter what the amount is.

Barry and Susan Brown of Philadelphia, PA learned this the hard way. Because they were getting older, they decided to add their son’s name to their bank accounts. They decided this would be the easiest way to enable him to access their funds in case of a health emergency.
Unfortunately, their son died before they did. Shortly thereafter, they received a tax bill for several thousand dollars. Why? Under Pennsylvania law, one third of the money in their accounts was considered to be their son’s. Since, according to the law, they had inherited it, they owed 4.5 percent as tax. Their son had none of his own money in the accounts, but that didn’t matter. They had to pay the tax.

This problem could have very easily been avoided. Instead of putting their son’s name on their bank accounts, they should have prepared a financial power of attorney document. In this document, they could have given their son the right to access their money and make financial decisions on their behalf when they were unable to do so. This method would have allowed them to keep all of their money instead of giving some of it away to the government needlessly.

For helpful information about how to plan for incapacity and death, go to

25 Documents You Need Before You Die

Recently, the Wall Street Journal weekend edition had a very interesting article titled “25 Documents You Need Before You Die.”

Basically, it says that you should make sure that the originals of all of your valuable papers are put somewhere safe and that a loved one knows where that safe place is. Otherwise, when you become incapacitated or after you die there may be a great deal of frustration and unnecessary work as your heir or estate representative tries to figure out what you’ve done and how to prove it.

Check out this article and also check out Die Smart for more information on what to do.