On January 2, 2013

Those familiar with the life of railroad heiress Huguette Clark might be interested to know that the drama surrounding her multimillion-dollar fortune has just taken another turn. A 60-year-old homeless man who was in line to receive a hefty portion of her estate — an estimated $19 million — was found dead recently of hypothermia, adding another layer of mystery to the heiress’ intentions before she died in 2011 at age 104.

Clark was the daughter of William Andrews Clark, a U.S. senator and and one of the founders of Las Vegas, by many accounts. Having made his fortune in railroads and copper, he died at age 86 as one of the top 50 richest people in American history. He left his youngest daughter hundreds of millions of dollars, and she herself died an extremely wealthy woman.

But she was also famously reclusive. Despite owning three palatial homes, she chose to spend the last 20 years of her life in a New York hospital. After she died, her family was largely kept out of her will; about 75 percent of it went to charity, with the rest apparently distributed to her attorney, accountant and the medical staff who cared for her. Almost 20 family members who were given nothing have contested the will, saying Clark was a victim of financial abuse and manipulation in her final years. A trustee of her estate, appointed by the court, has been trying to get those who did inherit portions of Clark’s estate to turn over the money.

The homeless man who was found dead in Wyoming was Clark’s half-great-nephew. He had no family of his own and was long out of touch with any other relatives. But a coroner said a 2003 cashier’s check for a “significant amount” of money was found in the man’s wallet. The finding is sure to fuel the mystery and litigation surrounding Clark’s estate.

As bizarre as this case may be, family disputes over wills are far from uncommon. Colorado residents can avoid scenarios like this by working with an estate planning attorney who will ensure that no details are left unsettled. Your family may not approve of how you distribute your assets and property, but with the right protections, they can avoid the fighting and litigation that often comes with the execution of an estate.

Source: New York Post, “Homeless heir to Huguette Clark’s $19M fortune found dead in Wyoming,” Jeane MacIntosh, Dec. 31, 2012

  • Our firm handles a wide range of estate planning and probate matters. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Denver estate planning page.

Categories: Probate Litigation

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