But what makes this story interesting is not the size of her estate but how she spent the last three decades of her life. And it is that choice of lifestyle that makes this truly a fascinating story.
The family (primarily nieces and nephews) is claiming that her attorney, Wallace Bock and her accountant, Irving Kamsler have intentionally kept her secluded to allow them more control over the estate. These claims, along with an MSNBC report last year has led to some more formal investigations relating to Bock and Kamsler by the District Attorney's office.
The MSNBC report last year uncovered the fact that Ms. Clark had a will, but there was no mention of a trust. Presumably under advisement of her attorney, she would have had a complete plan, but without any evidence to the contrary, we can only assume. Although it would seem like an obvious decision for someone of that level of wealth. Many celebrities and high net worth individuals die without a trust.
Assuming her affairs are not in order, it would even be more difficult to guess where all of this money and property will go. The bickering family members can hardly be considered close family, especially since she has unlikely seen them since the Carter administration.
Huguette was not known as a charitable woman, so a natural charitable beneficiary does not really rise to the surface. In 2001, she did make a $1.5 million donation to an organization, but it later turns out that Bock's daughter was affiliated with that charity.
The only people who were close to her were Bock and Kamsler themselves, but with all of the investigations being conducted, the chance of them seeing any of this from a trust would not be until after all such contentions cease, and nearly impossible if such would need to be resolved through probate.
There are so many lessons we can take away from this. Clearly, having a clearly articulated estate plan is first and foremost, and ensuring that the people who love you most are the closest to you, and named in your documents is second, but another lesson is one that some of us may never have to learn--regardless of the amount of planning one can do, it is impossible to completely protect one's self from the malicious and criminal intentions of another. When dealing with estate planning and asset protection, the system is designed to use paper and legal authority. Forgery, coercion, undue influence, and crime can usually overcome when left unchecked. And as sad as this may seem, the reality is that with an estate worth over a half a billion dollars, and no close family around to protect her interests, it is very likely that this 104-year old recluse had little control over her own affairs.
Hopefully I am wrong. Hopefully it surfaces that she has a complete rock solid estate plan, and that the people assigned to administer to it love her and care about her enough to ensure it goes without a hitch. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to go through probating a $500,000,000 estate. Without even going into how many years (decades?) that would take, I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around the $30,000,000+ probate fees that would be involved.