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Up for grabs: the $300 million estate of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark

W.A. Clark Memorial Library

Huguette Clark with a doll in the 1910s.

By Bill DedmanInvestigative Reporter, NBC News

NEW YORK — The stakes have been set in the battle over the wealth of copper heiress Huguette Clark. More than $300 million is on the table as her extended family prepares for a court fight with her nurse and others for the last whispers of one of the great fortunes from America's Gilded Age.

At her death on May 24, 2011, in the New York City hospital where she had lived for 20 years, the daughter of one of the copper kings of Montana possessed about $306.5 million, counting all her real estate, stocks, bonds, cash, trusts and personal property. The accounting was filed this week in Surrogate's Court in Manhattan by the office of the public administrator, the temporary executor of her estate.

Clark's estimated property values:

  • $84.5 million for Bellosguardo, her California beachfront vacation home on 23.5 acres in Santa Barbara. That value was reduced to reflect $502,000 in property tax liens.
  • $53.0 million for her three apartments at 907 Fifth Ave., New York City. Their values are $24 million for apartment 12-W, which has been sold, $19 million for apartment 8-W, which has also found a buyer, and $10 million for apartment 8-E,  still on the market. Each apartment has approximately 5,000 square feet.
  • $14.3 million for La Beau Château, her Connecticut country home on 51.7 acres in New Canaan.
  • $79.3 million in stocks, bonds, cash and trusts, including $4,039 in unclaimed funds received from the state of New York.
  • $75.4 million in personal property. Details are not given, but this includes a Monet and other paintings, jewelry, furniture and her doll collection.

John L. Wiley, http://flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/

Bellosguardo, the Huguette Clark summer home in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her executor estimates its value at $85 million. Other estimates have run to $100 million. It could go to a new arts foundation, or to her extended family.


The net value of the estate will be less. Federal and state estate taxes must be paid, and unpaid federal gift taxes are due to the IRS.

And the estate could increase in value if the executor is successful in efforts to claw back more than $44 million in gifts that were given to Clark's nurses, doctors, hospital and others in her later years.

Huguette (pronounced "oo-GET") Marcelle Clark, born in Paris in 1906, inherited her fortune from William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), a U.S. senator from Montana who was among the richest men of the Gilded Age, a copper miner, banker, builder of railroads, and founder of the city of Las Vegas.

His youngest daughter attracted the attention of NBC News in 2009 because of her vacant but well-manicured mansions and questions about the management of her money. She lived her last 20 years in spartan hospital rooms, dying just weeks before her 105th birthday. The archive of Clark stories, photos and videos is at http://nbcnews.com/clark/.

Rahul Kadakia of Christie's Auction House displays jewels discovered in heiress Huguette Clark's safe deposit box, including a pink 9-carat diamond ring that could be worth up to $15 million and a flawless Cartier diamond worth up to $4 million.

Signed two willsTo direct her fortune, at age 98, Huguette Clark signed two wills.

The first will left $5 million to her private-duty registered nurse, Hadassah Peri, leaving the bulk of her estate to her relatives from her father's first marriage. The family members were not named in that will, which left the estate to her "intestate distributees," legal language for the people who would inherit if she died without a will. Because Clark had been married only briefly, and had no children, her closest relatives were the descendants of her father from the first marriage. These were Huguette Clark's half great-nieces and half great-nephews, and their children. Huguette and her four half-siblings had each received one-fifth shares of W.A. Clark's empire in 1925. Huguette's mother, Anna, received Bellosguardo, which then passed down to Huguette.

Just six weeks passed before Clark signed a new will. It specified that she intentionally left no money to family, with whom the will said she had little contact. The family is claiming that this will was the product of fraud. The newer document leaves the largest share of her fortune to a museum or art foundation to be set up at her oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara. Specific bequests are made to her attorney, accountant, doctor and others, and the remainder is split among the nurse, a goddaughter and the California foundation. (See the earlier story and read the documents: A twist: Heiress Huguette Clark signed two wills.)

Originally the temporary executors of the Clark estate were her attorney and accountant, but the court revoked the accountant's authority, and suspended the attorney from his role, leaving only the public administrator to manage the estate for now. The judge, Surrogate Kristin Booth Glen, acted after the public administrator's attorney revealed that Clark had not filed gift tax returns from 1997 through 2003, leaving her owing millions in taxes plus interest and possible penalties. (See the earlier story: Judge bounces attorney, accountant.)

Preparing for trialThe parties have been collecting evidence in the case through depositions of witnesses. Judge Glen put the attorneys on a fast clock, saying she hoped to begin a jury trial this year, before her term ends on Dec. 31. The judge recently acknowledged in court, however, that such an early trial date seems unlikely, leaving the case for her successor, perhaps early in 2013.

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Though a criminal investigation was launched in August 2010 into the handling of Clark's finances by her attorney and accountant, no one has been charged with any crime. Both men have maintained that they did nothing more than carry out the wishes of a woman who wanted to protect her privacy. The investigation continues by the Elder Abuse Unit of the New York County District Attorney's Office. The investigation was prompted in part by reports by NBC News about the sale of property owned by Clark, including a Stradivarius violin and a Renoir painting.

Clark's jewelry collection was sold at auction in April for $18.3 million. That money will be held by the estate during the contest over the wills. Her country estate in Connecticut is for sale, recently marked down to $15.9 million. Her estate in Santa Barbara is being carefully maintained, awaiting the court's decision. 

Do you have information on the Clark family?Reporter Bill Dedman is co-authoring "Empty Mansions," a nonfiction book about Huguette Clark and her family. If you have documents or information, you can reach him at bill.dedman@msnbc.com.

The full story

More on the Huguette Clark mystery is at http://nbcnews.com/clark/.

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