A final attempt at a settlement is delaying the scheduled start of the $300 million estate trial of the late Huguette M. Clark, the reclusive heiress to a copper mining fortune.
The New York attorney general's office is trying to broker a settlement, but Clark's distant relatives, who are challenging her last will and testament (which leaves them out entirely), have not been able to find common ground with the named beneficiaries.
To allow time for negotiations, jury selection has been put off until Thursday morning in Surrogate's Court in Lower Manhattan, reports NBC News.
The beneficiaries from Huguette Clark's last will (from 2005) include a new charitable foundation for the arts in California, based at the Clark summer home; the hospital where she died at age 104; her private nurse, who already received more than $30 million in gifts while Clark was alive; a goddaughter; and Clark's attorney, accountant, doctor and others.
Clark, who died estranged from her friends and family, stated emphatically in this will that none of her money should go to her relatives.
But in another will, signed a mere six weeks earlier, the reclusive heiress gave $5 million to her nurse and the remainder -- more than $400 million -- to her family, the relatives claim in a court filing.
Challenging the Will
The relatives, many of whom never met Clark in her 104 years of life, are trying to invalidate the last will by claiming:
- The will was the product of fraud. The relatives claim that Clark's nurse, attorney, and accountant unduly influenced Clark and had hands in manipulating the heiress, who was nearly 100 when she signed her will.
- Clark was incompetent. A testator's failure to understand the extent and value of her property is one way to prove a lack of mental capacity. The relatives are claiming the elderly heiress did not understand the nature of her property and was not mentally capable of making a will.
- The signing ceremony was faulty. Though it's unclear what the relatives are claiming, most states require that witnesses to a will be people who are not named heirs in the will. Furthermore, if you had a lawyer draft your will, then you may not use that lawyer as a witness, either.
If a settlement can't be reached among the estate lawyers (more than 60 of them) representing the various parties involved, then a trial (that will no doubt take a turn for the ugly) will begin.