Millionaire's Wishes Remain Unclear After Death

Posted By Steven Adler || 27-Mar-2012

A masterpiece of Impressionist art is in the midst of potential probate issues regarding recluse millionaire Huguette Clark's estate. Edgar Degas' painting "Dancer Making Points" is in the fight because Clark executed two wills during her 104-year lifetime and her estate planning is unclear.

The first will left Clark's millions to her family, mostly half-nieces and nephews. The second will preserves her most precious assets, fine art, by creating a museum in her house in Santa Barbara.

There is another twist in the story. The painting went missing from Clark's Fifth Avenue apartment in the early '90s and turned up in the Kansas living room of Henry Bloch. In a settlement, Clark signed the painting over to a Kansas museum, where Bloch is a benefactor. Though Clark was 102 by the time of the transaction with Bloch and the museum, her physician testified to her mental capacity.

If Clark was competent to sign the painting over to the museum, then she was likely competent to sign her second will. The doctor attesting to her competency, however, was also a benefactor in Clark's second will. Clark passed away in 2011. Her family and ex-benefactors are now contesting the execution of her will.

The public administrator for the city of New York has looked into the case but hasn't challenged the painting's placement. This could mean it was properly executed while other gifts to her nurse, attorney and accountant are under scrutiny.

It remains uncertain what Clark's desires were for her beloved paintings, which will likely be fought out during probate litigation. In this case, like many others, a well-documented will could certainly have made things clearer and could have avoided a legal dispute involving her potential heirs. Clark was plain about at least one request: before her death she received a full-size photograph of the Degas painting.

Source: MSNBC, "The $10 Million Degas ballerina, heiress Huguette Clark and the tax man," March 15, 2012

Categories: Probate Litigation