Huguette Clark died on May 24, 2011 in New York city at the age of 104. A hospital served as her residence for the last 20 years. Her estate is estimated to be about $500 million.
Ms. Clark was born in 1907, the product of a second marriage. Her father, William Andrews Clark, made his fortune from Montana copper mines in the late 1800s; he became a one-term U.S. senator in 1901.
Mr. Clark’s first wife, Kate, died in 1893, leaving him four grown children. At 62, he married a 23 year old woman, Anna. They had two children: Andrée was born in 1902 in Spain, and Huguette in 1906 in Paris. In 1919, Andrée died of meningitis.
Mr. Clark earned $12 million per year at a time when a doctor could expect to earn about $2,000 and a lawyer $1,500. In her early years Ms. Clark lived with her parents in a custom-built Fifth Avenue 121-room mansion. When her father died in 1925, Ms. Clark inherited about $9 million plus an allowance of about $333 per day. She moved with her mother to a 44-room Central Park apartment. After her mother’s death in 1963, Ms. Clark had little contact with the outside world. That large apartment and two other grand properties have been unoccupied but well-maintained for the last several decades. Ms. Clark bought a 52-acre property in 1952. She never stayed a night in the 22-room, 12,766-square-foot home.
Distant nieces and nephews raised concerns about Ms. Clark’s health in 2010 and sought an order to declare her incompetent. The judge denied the request.
The accountant and lawyer are being investigated by the New York district attorney as to their handling of Ms. Clark’s affairs.
It is not clear whether there were legitimate concerns: was Ms. Clark reclusive or the object of elder abuse? Or were her great nieces and nephews simply financially motivated relatives?
Apparently Ms. Clark signed a Will about six years ago but the distribution of her estate is not public – yet.
If she lived in this generation, professional advisors I think would provide guidance to both generations that might lead to a different life than that which was lived by Ms. Clark.
Mr. Clark likely would have received not just tax advice but thoughtful guidance on how he might create a healthy legacy. He might also have received counsel on the effects of transferring such significant money to his family. Because of stories like Ms. Clark’s, advisors today may have an even greater responsibility to consider the impact of an inheritance on the next generation.
While it is not clear that the weight of her wealth affected her lifestyle choices, it is reported that Ms. Clark once told friends that wealth is a “menace to happiness.”
submitted by: Jonathan Morse