Two Conflicting Wills Turn a $400 Million Estate Into a Fight

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AP

Mrs. Huguette Clark Gower, daughter of the late Senator William A. Clark of Montana, copper magnate, in Reno, Nevada on August 11, 1930.

Nothing quite says holiday cheer like a fight among family members, especially with an entire mega-inheritance—about $400 million—hanging in the balance.

A 104-year-old childless heiress who passed away in May 2011, Huguette Clark allegedly left two signed wills which don’t exactly see eye to eye. The two wills were both reportedly signed within a month of each other in 2005. Offering up one will signed in March 2005, 21 relatives of the heir to a copper mining fortune filed court papers Monday as part of a their claim that they are the rightful beneficiaries of the estate. But a will signed in April 2005 leaves the family out of the loop and instead gives the fortune to create an art foundation, using her oceanfront property in Santa Barbara, Calif., as a museum, and even tosses $34 million toward Clark’s nurse, plus half a million each to her attorney, Wallace Bock and her accountant, Irving Kamsler.

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Despite Clark’s solitary lifestyle, the family says that her two estate executors, Bock and Kamsler, oversaw her, but still somehow spent about $1 million per month while she lived for the last 22 years, mostly secluded, in a hospital room. Both men deny any wrongdoing and say they followed Clark’s wishes to the letter.

Clark was a daughter of U.S. Senator William A. Clark, who amassed fortunes mining copper and constructing railroads. He has also been credited with founding Las Vegas — hence Nevada’s Clark County.

Huguette was born in Paris and grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif. before moving to Manhattan following her mother’s death in 1963. She was married for nine months while in her 20s, but was most well known for living in Manhattan, including owning a 42-room house on Fifth Avenue, and traveling to Europe to enjoy the arts. But Huguette decided two decades ago to move to a Manhattan hospital and her estate was managed by Bock and Kamsler.

But a group of 21 of Clark’s relatives contend the money was grossly mismanaged and that the will presented as real doesn’t measure up to the one that names her relatives as beneficiaries, claiming she was coaxed into signing it by the executors.

With so much money at stake, authorities have reportedly started looking into the situation, with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the state attorney general joining the legal proceedings.

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