Huguette Clark, the granddaughter of a prominent U.S. Senator, lived a reclusive life, spending her last decades in a hospital room at New York City’s Beth Israel Hospital (see Is 104-Year-Old Heiress in Thrall to Her Accountant? and Huguette Clark Case Illustrates Importance of Proper Estate Planning). Yet she owned lavish mansions and apartments in California, Connecticut and New York that sat empty for years. She apparently left behind two wills, one that left money from her $400 million estate to 21 of her relatives and the other bequeathing her fortune to her attorney, accountant and nurse, along with some of their favorite charities, according to a series of articles by Bill Dedman of MSNBC.
The attorney and accountant have been accused of siphoning millions of dollars out of her estate, and the nurse is in line to inherit more than $30 million from the last will that they drew up on behalf of Clark. They deny any wrongdoing.
Much of the money in that last will also went to a charitable foundation that will be controlled by the attorney and accountant. The foundation would set up an art museum at her Santa Barbara mansion to showcase her collection of masterpieces by Renoir, Monet and other artists. Both wills were apparently drawn up within weeks of one another, and only after Clark had reached the age of 98. Her family has filed suit against the attorney and accountant, contesting that will, and the nurse, Hadassah Peri, has filed suit against the family to keep them from getting a closer look at how the money was spent.
A public administrator for New York County, Ethel Griffin, has now been appointed, and she is asking the court to remove the accountant, Irving Kamsler, and attorney, Wallace Bock, as executors for the Clark estate, according to MSNBC. The public administrator has accused the pair of tax fraud, including failure to file federal gift tax returns on behalf of their client from 1997 to 2003. During that time, Clark apparently gave approximately $56 million in gifts to individuals without paying gift and generation-skipping taxes amounting to about $41.5 million. They also allegedly paid only $7.5 million in estimated gift taxes, filed false tax returns with the IRS from 2004 to 2009, failed to tell their client about her unpaid taxes and penalties, and misrepresented to the IRS that the tax returns had been sent.
Kamsler, a convicted felon and registered sex offender who was accused of sending indecent materials to teenage girls in an AOL chat room, has now resigned as the accountant for her estate. He was Clark’s attorney for 30 years and Bock was her attorney for 15 years.
An attorney for Kamsler and Bock issued a statement defending their actions, pointing out that there is no allegation in the papers filed by the public administrator that either of them was taking any money out of Clark’s account to benefit themselves and that they had handled her affairs in a way “to protect and preserve her chosen lifestyle.”
The battles are likely to play out in court for years to come.
Michael Cohn writes for Accounting Today.