NEW YORK — A last will and testament for the reclusive copper heiress Huguette M. Clark was filed Wednesday afternoon in Surrogate's Court in New York City, leaving most of her $400 million fortune to charity — and $1 million to her financial advisers even as a criminal investigation of the handling of her money continues.
The nurse who took care of her for two decades will receive about $30 million after estate taxes. She had been randomly assigned by an agency to care for Clark in about 1991.Story: Heiress's nurse inherits $30 million — but should she?
Not a dime was left to Clark's relatives, who are likely to challenge the will in court. Nothing was left to anyone associated with Butte, the Montana mining town where her father made his first millions in copper mining. And nothing goes to the various Clark charities that her father had established for women and orphans.
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Clark's will leaves $500,000 to her attorney, $500,000 to her accountant (despite his felony conviction and status as a registered sex offender), both of whom are the subject of a criminal inquiry related to their handling of her finances. The will also names the men as her co-executors, making them eligible to collect fees for handling her estate.
A criminal investigation continues, with the Manhattan district attorney looking into her financial affairs, which are handled by attorney Wallace "Wally" Bock, 79, and her accountant, Irving H. Kamsler, 64, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to a charge of attempting to send indecent materials to minors.
The will also sets up a foundation controlled by the attorney and accountant to hold most of her art collection, creating a museum in her 21,000-square-foot mansion called Bellosguardo, on a 24-acre oceanfront property in Santa Barbara, Calif., which she had not visited since her mother died in 1963. Most of the paintings from her Fifth Avenue apartment in New York will go to the new Bellosguardo Foundation, including works by Renoir, John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase. The attorney and accountant under investigation are two of the three board members, with the third being her California attorney.
Huguette Clark, the daughter of mining tycoon and U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), died May 24 at age 104 in New York City, in the hospital where she had lived under a fake name. She had lived in hospitals since the late 1980s, even when her health was good. ( Click here to read her obituary .)
Her charitable bequests amount to about 75 percent of her estate, after taxes.
Besides the new foundation, her will specifies these bequests: $100,000 to her physician, Dr. Henry Singman; $500,000 to assistant Christopher Sattler; two years' salary to the estate manager in California, John Douglas; one year's salary to the manager of her 52-acre estate in Connecticut, Anthony Ruggiero; and $25,000 to the manager of her 42-room apartments on Fifth Avenue, Martin Gonzalez. She then lists the $500,000 each to her attorney and accountant. The properties in New York City and Connecticut will be sold.
Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, where she lived in a simple hospital room for so many years, receives $1 million.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which already has much of her father's art collection, will receive one painting, a Monet from the "Water Lilies" series, which has not been seen by the public since 1925, the year her father died.
The remainder of the estate, roughly $100 million before taxes, is divided in this fashion:
- Sixty percent of the remainder goes to her longtime nurse, Hadassah Peri, who already received from Clark cash to buy four homes worth about $2 million. The nurse also gets Clark's extensive collection of French and Japanese dolls. This amount will be about $33 million after taxes.
- A goddaughter, Wanda Styka, gets 25 percent, or roughly $12 million after taxes. Her father, Polish painter Tade Styka, was supported by the Clarks.
- And 15 percent goes to the Bellosguardo Foundation, or roughly $8 million after taxes.
Nothing for relatives
Nothing is left to any relative.
"I intentionally make no provision in this my Last Will and Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years," it said. "The persons and institutions named herein as beneficiaries of my Estate are the true objects of my bounty."
The will is dated April 2005, when she was 98 years old, about the time the attorney cut off contact between Clark and her relatives.
The will is likely to be contested, particularly because it names the attorney as a beneficiary, and because of the criminal investigation. New York ethics rules prohibit lawyers from soliciting gifts from clients "for the benefit of the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer."
If a court invalidated the will, Clark's estate would flow under state law to her nearest relatives, the 21 descendants from her father's first marriage.
Several of these relatives have said that they and their parents had close relations with Clark until about 2005, when the will was signed, but that her attorney then cut off contact, telling them not to contact her again.
Clark had no children, and her only relatives were half-great-nieces and half-great-nephews and others descended from her father's first marriage, and scattered descendants of her mother's siblings. The court documents identify 21 living descendants of her father's first marriage, and none from her mother. (Huguette Clark's mother, Anna, had two children. The older daughter died just before her 17th birthday.)
No one has been charged with any crime in the handling of Clark's finances, and the men have said that they handled her accounts strictly according to her wishes, and were only following her desire for privacy by keeping relatives at a distance.
Accountant says conviction is no bar to being executor
Kamsler filed with the court a sworn statement arguing that he should be eligible to be appointed as executor, despite his felony conviction for attempting to distribute indecent materials to minors in an AOL chat room, where he went by the handle IRV1040 when he was talking to underage girls (who turned out to be police investigators).
"My conviction for attempted dissemination of indecent materials to minors," Kamsler argues to the probate court, "did not involve dishonesty or affect my ability or fitness to serve as fiduciary of an estate."
The court documents also included a 2009 letter in which Kamsler told Clark obliquely of his guilty plea. He characterized his arrest in his letter to his client this way: "I recently visited with you and explained my legal situation concerning my pleading guilty to a single felony charge involving the use of my computer to attempt to communicate with minors, who in fact were not minors but were undercover agents." His letter was signed by "H.M. Clark" to indicate her willingness that he continue as one of her executors and trustees. Bock and Kamsler have both declined to say whether they are also named as beneficiaries. (Read the document: Kamsler's letter signed by Huguette Clark.)
Kamsler's letter didn't mention that he was indicted on five charges, or that he was charged with trying to disseminate indecent material to people who he thought were 13-year-old and 15-year-old girls, or that he tried to get the girls to engage in sexual acts and suggested they meet him in a "deserted road or park." (Read the document: Kamsler's criminal court file and investigator's report.)
On the day he pleaded guilty, in 2009, Kamsler received from the state judge a "certificate of relief from civil disabilities." The district attorney's office in Nassau County, on Long Island, did not object. Taking that information into account, the New York State Board of Education allowed Kamsler to keep his license as a certified public accountant.
A family fight
In September, three Clark family members went to court in New York , asking that a guardian be appointed to protect her. The relatives (her half-nieces and half-nephews, descendants of Clark's father from his first marriage) said they had been blocked from visiting Clark through the years and, citing news articles, they alleged that the attorney and accountant had exerted undue influence on her. (Read the document: the family's petition.)
The attorney, Bock, confirmed in court documents that after the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he had solicited a donation from Clark of more than $1.5 million, which she gave to a West Bank community where his daughter is a settler. Bock said that she gave the donation freely of her own accord.
Bock told the court he has safeguarded Clark's health, safety, welfare and privacy. He said she chose to live in the hospital, even when she was well. He denied controlling her affairs and access to her, saying he has merely carried out her wishes. "Ms. Clark has explicitly instructed me on many occasions that she does not want visitors and does not want anyone — including her relatives — to know where she resides," Bock wrote. (Read the document: Bock's sworn statement to the court.)
A state judge rejected the family petition , without a hearing, saying their claim was "insufficient in its hearsay, conclusory and speculative assertions" on the capacity of Clark to handle her affairs. The case presented something of a Catch-22: The judge said the relatives were not able to provide first-hand information about Clark to prove their allegations against the attorney and accountant, but the relatives said they had been prevented for many years by the attorney and accountant from visiting Clark. (Read the document: the judge's rulling.)
A life of fortune — to what advantage?
Huguette (pronounced "hue-GET") Marcelle Clark was born in Paris on June 9, 1906, the youngest child of U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark of Montana, known as one of the copper kings. When she was a child, her father was described by The New York Times as either the richest or second-richest American, neck and neck with John D. Rockefeller. W.A. Clark made a fortune in copper mining in Montana and Arizona, and owned banks, railroads, newspapers, sugar, tea, timber, real estate and many other investments. He served one full term in the Senate as a Democrat from Montana, from 1901 to 1907, despite having to give up the seat earlier in 1900 in a scandal involving bribes paid to legislators to send him to the Senate. (The explanation attributed to him: "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale.") The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which removed the election of senators from the hands of legislators and gave it to the people, is a backhanded tribute to his legacy.
While serving in the Senate in 1904, the 65-year-old widower shocked the political and financial world by announcing that he had secretly remarried three years earlier, and that he and his 26-year-old wife already had a 2-year-old daughter, Andrée. A second daughter, Huguette, was born in 1906. When Huguette was about 4, the family of four moved into a 121-room house at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street in New York City, stuffed with the senator's collection of French paintings.
The senator died in 1925 and soon was largely forgotten, except to the occasional question on Jeopardy! and to historians in Montana, Arizona and Nevada, where his railroad spawned the city of Las Vegas and where Clark County is named for him.
Huguette Clark grew up in high society in New York City and was educated at Miss Spence's School for Girls. When her father died, she received an allowance of $7,500 a month (about $1.2 million a year in today's dollars), and when she reached 21 she inherited one-fifth of her father's estate, an even split with his children from his first marriage. The entire estate was estimated at up to $300 million, or about $3.6 billion today.
She was married in 1928, at 22, to William Gower, a law student and Clark family employee. The couple soon separated, had no children, and divorced in less than two years, in the summer of 1930. Thereafter she lived with her mother, Anna, in the apartments at 907 Fifth Ave. (at 72nd Street), occasionally receiving family visitors and a few friends, until Anna died in 1963.
Empty mansions and financial questions
In February 2010, at age 103, Huguette Clark was the subject of a feature story on msnbc.com, a photo narrative of her life and family history. She caught the imagination of the public because her three opulent homes remained unoccupied: an estate alongside the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif., worth an estimated $100 million, which she had not visited since the 1950s; a country house in New Canaan, Conn., on the market for $23 million, which she expanded but never spent a night in; and the largest apartment on New York City's Fifth Avenue, actually 42 rooms on the eighth and 12th floors, valued at about $100 million.
The homes have been carefully maintained through all these years. The oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara remains furnished, with paintings on the walls, gardens tended, furniture carefully covered, the great house ready to be opened if she should send word of an impending visit. The country house in Connecticut has had extensive repairs, watched by a full-time caretaker who said he wasn't sure whether Clark was dead or alive. And the apartments in New York, with her collections of dolls and dollhouses as well as fine paintings and furniture, are visited regularly by housekeepers and her attorney.
Then a feature story became an investigation. Msnbc.com reported in August that her wealth was managed by her attorney Bock and accountant Kamsler. Kamsler was arrested in 2007 and pleaded guilty in 2008 to attempting to distribute indecent material to 13- and 15-year-old girls in an AOL chat room.
Msnbc.com also reported that the attorney and accountant became the owners of the New York City apartment of another elderly client, a lawyer at Bock's firm who had been Clark's attorney. The apartment was bequeathed to them after the man's last will and testament was revised six times during his last years, a period when his family and neighbors said he suffered from dementia.
The Manhattan district attorney began investigating the handling of Clark's finances. The DA's Elder Abuse Unit and New York City police detectives have looked at allegations relating to transactions in her bank accounts, as well as the confidential sale of a Stradivarius violin for $6 million, the sale of a Renoir painting for $23.5 million, the gift of $10 million to the friend and social secretary, and the gift to her longtime nurse of cash to buy four homes now worth about $1.7 million.
The criminal investigation is being handled by the same prosecutor as the Brooke Astor case, in which the son and attorney of the New York heiress were convicted in 2009 of stealing from her. Huguette Clark's fortune is said to be about four times that of Astor's.
Related content for "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery":
- All of msnbc.com's reports on Huguette Clark are gathered at clark.msnbc.com.
- The photo narrative from February on Huguette Clark and her empty mansions (on this page)
- A PDF file for printing the photos
- Notes and documents consulted in researching the Clark family story
- Part one of the investigative report: At 104, mysterious heiress is alone now
- Part two of the investigative report: Who is watching Huguette's millions?
- Family excluded from Huguette Clark burial
- Reclusive heiress Huguette Clark dies at 104
- Report sparks welfare check on reclusive heiress
- Copper heiress has signed a will, attorney says
- Family of copper heiress asks court to protect her
- Reclusive heiress's attorney lashes out at family
- Generosity of an heiress: homes for the nurse, gifts for attorney's family
- Investigated pair still controls heiress's wealth
- Huguette Clark, the reclusive copper heiress, dies at 104
Documents (PDF files)
- The last will and testament of Huguette Clark
- Family's petition seeking a guardian for Huguette Clark
- Attorney Bock's sworn statement to the court
- Judge's ruling rejecting the family's guardianship petition
- Kamsler letter informing Clark of his guilty plea
- Kamsler's criminal court file and investigator's report
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