Heiress’ Estate Litigation Has Lessons For Texas Readers

Huguette Clark was an interesting figure, to put it mildly.

Clark, who died in 2011 at the age of 104, was the lone heiress to a $300 million fortune her father made mining copper. In the last stages of her life, she became a recluse. She lived (by choice) in a Manhattan hospital for the last two decades of her life with her large collection of dolls; the only people with whom she had regular contact were her nurse and attorney.

Clark died testate, having had a will made in April 2005. The will left most her money to her nurse and to charitable causes. It was quickly challenged by some of Clark’s distant, living relatives.

Clark’s relatives have alleged two things, and we thought their accusations presented a good chance to illustrate two concepts for our Texas audience:

  • Mental Incapacity: Clark’s relatives have alleged that she was not mentally fit to make a will. This claim has largely been exhausted. The standard for mental capacity is quite low. As long as a person understands, in a general way A.) The nature and extent of his or her property. B.) The natural objects of his or her bounty C.) The disposition that he or she is making of that property and D.) Is capable of relating those elements to one another and forming an orderly desire regarding the disposition of the property, then he or she likely has capacity. Although Clark was eccentric and some of her choices were strange, that is not enough to indicate that she lacked capacity.
  • Duress: A will that is created under duress, meaning under overt coercion, it has no effect. Courts have a very high bar for what amounts to “coercion,” though. Essentially, if there is any question was to whether something amounts to duress, that means it probably is not.

The estate litigation that began almost immediately after Clark’s death seems to be winding down now, so it will be interesting to see the final outcome of this case.

If you have further questions related to estate planning concepts like estate, trusts, guardianships and conservatorships, you could contact us.