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Estate administration: Dispute over heiress' 2 wills resolved

Estate administration can be a complicated and contentious matter if a person's end-of-life documents are not in order. This is especially true when documents such as separate wills contradict each other.

A potentially protracted dispute was resolved recently when heirs and beneficiaries of a wealthy heiress came to a late-night deal that the judge hearing the case called "a fair result." In question was the distribution of the $300 million estate of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark.

Clark inherited her father's fortune after his death in 1925. William A. Clark was an entrepreneur and politician who made his money in copper mining, railroads and banking, and he was one of the wealthiest people in the U.S. when he died.

In 2011, at 104 years old, his daughter Huguette died, and she too was one of the nation's wealthiest.

Those vying for a piece of her fortune included about two dozen of Clark's distant relatives, her goddaughter and her nurse, all of whom could have possibly inherited very significant sums of money.

The main problem in the dispute appears to have been the fact that two contradictory wills existed. Both wills were created in 2005 within a six-week span.

According to the second will, Clark's nurse was to receive a highly valued collection of dolls. But the final settlement, which was reached at 2 a.m. after a series of emails, will leave nothing to the nurse or to Clark's attorney.

The case was on its way to trial when the judge decided to postpone the jury selection because it appeared that a settlement might be possible.

While not every estate dispute involves hundreds of millions of dollars, these kinds of disputes can be expensive, emotional and time-consuming.

Contradictory wills and other disputable documents are sometimes the result of undue influence upon the estate owner, and Texas families confronted with this sort of situation will want to be aware of their rights under Texas elder law.

Source: Huffington Post, "Relatives Resolve Dispute Over Reclusive Heiress Huguette Clark's Will," Jonathan Allen, Sept. 24, 2013

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