Friday, June 24, 2011

Heiress Huguette Clark - the saga continues. Who gets her $400 million fortune?

Last known photo taken of Ms. Clark | 1930
Almost a month ago, I posed a question to you dear Chiclets: don't we think that the life and death of zillionaire copper heiress Huguette Clark would make a great opera? You'll remember that Ms. Clark died last month - just shy of her 105th birthday - surrounded by many of her beloved dolls and the nurse that had been hired to care for her at the New York Hospital - where she was registered under an alias.

One of two daughters born to Senator and copper baron William Andrews Clark and his second wife Anna Eugenia LaChappelle, Ms. Clark was the only surviving immediate family member of the Senator as Ms. Clark's sister Louise A. A. Clark (called Andrée) died when Ms. Clark was 16.

Ms. Clark's story - from beginning to end - is more fascinating that I can even describe. Someone needs to make this into some sort of book-screenplay-movie situation, pronto. Please. Oh, PLEASE!

When Ms. Clark was a child, her father was described as either the richest or second-richest American, neck and neck with John D. Rockefeller. Senator Clark made his fortune in copper mining in Montana and Arizona, and owned banks, railroads, newspapers, saw mills, real estate and many other investments. He served one full term in the Senate as a Democrat from Montana, from 1901 to 1907, despite having to give up the seat earlier in 1900. The scandal that cost him his seat involved bribes paid to legislators so that they would send him to the Senate - back when the legislators decided senators. It is my understanding that Senator Clark defended himself by saying: "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale." (Who hasn't heard that phrase before?)

And, PS ... The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which removed the election of senators from the hands of legislators and gave it to the people, seems to be an ambiguous tribute to his legacy.

While serving in the Senate, the 65 year old who was widowed after his first wife Katherine Stauffer died, shocked the political and financial world by announcing that he had secretly remarried three years earlier. Not only that, but he and his 26-year-old wife already had a 2 year old daughter, Louise (Andrée). A second daughter, Huguette, was born in 1906.

A teenage Huguette Clark in the 1920s.
Can you only imagine what would happen in 2011 if a 65 year old senator came forth and said, "Oh, by the way ... I've been married for 3 years to a woman in France. And, we have a 2 year old daughter." Scandal! Now, imagine what that must have been like 107 years ago. Mind-blowing.

When little Huguette was 4-ish, the family of four moved into a 121-room house at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street in New York City. In his later years, Senator Clark developed a passion for collecting art and their huge-tastic house was packed to the gills with his collection. In fact, to better be able to negotiate for coveted pieces, he learned to speak fluent French and German.

Fast forward to 1925 - Senator Clark died and soon was largely forgotten. But, in Montana and Arizona the stories of Senator Clark live on - after all, it was his railroad that spawned the city of Las Vegas and Clark County is named for him. Also, his vast art collection is largely responsible for the establishment of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC where his heirs donated most of his collection. (The Corcoran Gallery makes a comeback in the story, later.)

Ms Clark was 19 years old when her father died and at that time, she and her mother moved to the penthouse at 907 Fifth Avenue. In addition to living with her mother, Huguette Clark was well taken care of, financially speaking. She received an allowance of $7,500 a month (that would be about $100,000 a month in today's dollars), and when she reached 21 she inherited one-fifth of her father's estate. This was an even split with his children from his first marriage to Katherine. The entire estate was estimated at up to $300 million, or about $3.6 billion in today's dollars.

This little tidbit of knowledge changes some of my perceptions of Ms. Clark's fortune. You see when I hear in the media "heiress to the Clark copper fortune", I think that she is the sole heir to the entire fortune. Well, now we see that is not true at all as the good senator's fortune was fairly divided among all of his living children.

During her life, Huguette Clark managed to take the roughly $60 million that she inherited - again, her piece of the Clark fortune - and increased it to include at the time of her death, $400 million, priceless works of art, a massive doll collection comprised of both French and Japanese dolls, numerous musical instruments and Real Estate holdings that include two estates and two apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue in New York. One of the apartments at 907 Fifth, reportedly the largest apartment on the island of Manhattan, takes up the entire 12th floor of the building (seen here). While the other apartment, which was where Huguette's mother Anna lived, takes up over half of the 8th floor.

It would seem that Ms. Clark came from family of "collectors". Her father collected art as she did also. And then, there was her half-sibling, William Andrews Clark, Jr., who settled in Southern California. The Junior Mr. Clark had a prominent collection of Oscar Wilde memorabilia and used his powerful fortune to influence the arts as well - he founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1919. Brother Clark Jr. died in 1934 when Ms. Clark was only 28 years old and was entombed at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a large mausoleum that sort of resembles The Parthenon. His story is pretty dramatic as well - you can check it out here.

So, who stands to inherit Huguette Clark's fortune? What about her "next of kin"?

907 Fifth Avenue
Our waiting and wondering is now over. On Wednesday, Huguette Clark's Last Will & Testament was filed and released to the public. Let's just say this - she didn't mince words:
I intentionally make no provision in this my Last Will Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years. The persons and institutions named herein as beneficiaries of my Estate are the true objects of my bounty.
Wow. She didn't just leave them out of the Will - she cut. them. out.

That means that the thirteen half-grandnieces and half-grandnephews as well as the eight half-great-grandnieces and half-great-grandnephews, all descendants of Senator Clark and his first wife, Katherine, will not receive one single penny of her fortune. But, let's be honest - it's not really theirs to get. After all, when Senator Clark died, his money was divided up evenly among all of the surviving children from both marriages. In a sense, they got theirs and this Estate truly is Huguette Clark's fortune. It would appear, though, that they are set to contest the Will - which is why Wallace Bock (Ms. Clark's Attorney) has filed a Citation with the Surrogate's Court requesting that they all show Cause - by August 17th.

So - where is all of that fortune set to go? I thought you'd never ask. According to the Will - which I've poured over myself ... and you know it's true - Ms. Clark’s "loyal nurse, friend and companion Hadassah Peri", is the individual who will benefit most. Ms. Peri will receive 60 percent of Ms. Clark's total estate, worth about $33 million, including investments and much of Ms. Clark's real estate holdings - that is to say, those not specifically bequeathed in the Will. Ms. Clark’s goddaughter, Wanda Styka, will get 25 percent of the Estate.

The will, which is dated April 19, 2005, leaves $1 million to Beth Israel Medical Center, where she lived for the final 20 years of her life, even while in good health, and where she died; $500,000 to her assistant; and $100,000 to a physician. An original of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies — which hasn't been seen in public for more than eighty years — has been gifted to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C..

Perhaps the most notable (and hotly contested) provisions in the Will are those that leave $500,000 each to Wallace Bock (Ms. Clark's attorney) and to her accountant, and known felon, Irving H. Kamsler. An investigation is currently under way to determine whether or not Bock and Kamsler acted in Ms. Clark's best interest.

Huguette Clark's Bellosguardo | Santa Barbara, CA
No one ever understood what Huguette Clark "did" for a living. By that, I mean what her occupation was. Interestingly enough, in the occupation section of her death certificate, Ms. Clark is listed as "Artist". Which brings me to the final chunk of Ms. Clark's estate which is set out to benefit what was near to her heart - the arts. From Ms. Clark's Will:
I direct my Executors hereafter named to form a private foundation ... to be named "Bellosguardo Foundation" and take all necessary steps to organize, operated and qualify said foundation as an educational organization ... for the primary purpose of fostering and promoting the arts.

I give, devise and bequeath to said Bellosguardo Foundation, my real estate in Santa Barbara, California at 1407 East Cabrillo Boulevard, known as Bellosguardo and all of the personal property contained therein or used in connection therewith ... as well as all of my works of art [Except the Water Lillies], musical instruments, rare books and library contained in my apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York and policies of insurance covering same.
This means that not only will the Bellosguardo Foundation be focused on the arts, and it will begin with approximately $8 million, and will possess all of Ms. Clarks rare belongings, as well as her Bellosguardo estate - a 21,000-square-foot mansion on a 24-acre oceanfront property in Santa Barbara.

I say: good for you, Ms. Clark. Let's hope your "family" doesn't keep your Estate held up in the courts and that your wishes will be carried out in short order.

I continue to remain utterly fascinated by this story. For more, visit

1 comment:

stray said...

talk about establishing a beach-head for the arts

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