Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Conflicting Wills Result in Challenge to Estate of Reclusive Heiress

In past blog entries we have noted that the elderly are especially susceptible to fraud, coercion, undue influence or duress, causing them to create or change their will or trust to name an abuser as a beneficiary.

Heiress Creates Two Conflicting Wills within Six Weeks

This week’s headlines have chronicled recent court filings in the death of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who passed away in May at the age of 104, leaving behind an estimated fortune of $400 million. Court filings disclose that Ms. Clark signed two wills, one on March 7, 2005 leaving the bulk of her fortune to her 21 relatives, and another on April 19, 2005, disinheriting her family entirely. In her second will, Ms. Clark noted that she was intentionally making no provision for any members of her family, having had only “minimal contact” with them over the years. Family members dispute this statement, and claim that the wills were executed around the same time that Ms. Clark’s attorney cut off their contact with Ms. Clark. The family members have filed a will contest, challenging the second will based on a number of grounds, including:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity;

  • Fraud;

  • Undue influence; and

  • Elder abuse.

The litigation over Ms. Clark’s estate is expected to be expensive, lengthy and contentious. Important questions surround the six week period during which Ms. Clark’s estate planning intentions changed so dramatically. Did her attorney or her accountant, who are named in the will as co-executors, exert undue influence over her? Did Ms. Clark understand the provisions of her will and what she was signing? Will the judge allow her accountant, a convicted felon, to serve as an executor? Will the judge allow her attorney, whose family has benefitted from nearly $2 million in gifts from Ms. Clark, to serve as an executor? How close was Ms. Clark to her relatives? These are all questions that will need to be answered over the course of the litigation.

San Diego Probate, Trust & Estate Litigation Attorney

San Diego attorney Vincent Casiano has significant experience in probate and trust litigation, including will contests, trust contests, and cases involving financial elder abuse. If you suspect that a loved one was coerced into changing their will or trust as a result of influence by an abuser, contact the Casiano Law Firm for experienced advice and representation.