Mysterious New Canaan mansion part of legal battle over Huguette Clark's estate
Published 11:18 am, Sunday, October 14, 2012
The estate of the late heiress Huguette Clark, owner of the mysterious and uninhabited mansion Le Beau Chateau in New Canaan, has been estimated to be worth more than $300 million, according to journalist Bill Dedman, who has been tracking the Clark story for years.
Clark died on May 24, 2011, at the age of 104. She left behind the mansion on 51.7 acres at 104 Dans Highway, a mystery because even though she bought it and built an addition on the property, she never spent even one night in the house.
Even so, it was meticulously maintained by employees of the reclusive heiress for the last 60 years, according to Dedman's reports.
The house is on the market for $15.9 million, down from an original asking price of $34 million. It is believed that the house, with brick walls and very little wood, was intended for use as a bomb shelter during the Cold War.
The 22-room house represents only one part of Clark's fortune. Her estate also comprises an $83.5 million summer home on 23.5 acres in Santa Barbara, Calif.; three large apartments at 907 Fifth Ave. in New York City valued at $53 million, all of which are in various stages of being sold; $79.3 million in stocks, bonds, cash and trusts; and $75.4 million in personal property, which includes jewelry, paintings, and a world-class doll collection, according to Dedman, an NBCNews.com journalist who has reported on the Huguette Clark story for more than three years and is writing a book on the subject.
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Now the question is to whom that fortune will go. At odds are Clark's distant family and her attorney's team.
Dedman said that although she had no will for the first 98 years of her life, Clark signed two of them within six weeks in 2005. The first will left $5 million to her long-term nurse, with the rest to be split among her distant family.
It did not specify any of the family members by name, only instructing that the money be split among Clark's "interstate distributes," or those who would be declared Clark's next of kin by the law.
Clark had no children, and her only sister, Andree, died in 1919 at age 16. The families in question are the descendants of Clark's father's first marriage.
However, a second will, Dedman said, signed six weeks later and therefore superseding the first, left the majority of her fortune to start a nonprofit art museum at her estate in Santa Barbara, as well as $30 million for her long-term nurse, $500,000 each to her two financial advisers and $1 million to the hospital in which she lived. The will did not mention her family.
On top of that suit, Clark's financial advisers, attorney Wallace Bock and accountant Irving Kamsler, the latter convicted for sending indecent photos to minors in 2009, are under criminal investigation for their handling of the heiress' finances. Bock had full power of attorney over Clark's finances at the end of her life, according to reporting by Dedman.
The two men have been stripped of their roles as executors of Clark's will by the courts, and the duty is now being handled by a public administrator of the city of New York.
The two men would have stood to make $8 million as executors during the process, according to Dedman. Clark donated $1.5 million in 2001 to the town in Israel where Bock's daughter and grandchildren live to pay for a security system. Bock and Kamsler are two of the three members of the board of advisers for the nonprofit museum Clark's will created in Santa Barbara.
Neither man has been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, and both maintain that they have followed Clark's wishes to the letter, according to Dedman.
Meanwhile, 19 members of Clark's extended family have filed an objection to the second will in Surrogate Court in Manhattan, claiming that Clark was not competent to make a will at age 98.
If they win the case, they would be declared "distributees" and stand in line for the windfall.
Clark was a recluse for much of her 104-year life, according to Dedman's research. She was married for two years in her early 20s and never married again. She lived with her mother, Anna, in the Manhattan apartment until her mother died in 1963.
In the 1990s, Clark moved to a room in a Manhattan hospital, where she lived for the next 20 years, at least some of them under a pseudonym, until shortly before her death.
Clark had few friends and did not speak or show herself publicly. The last photograph of her is from 1930. She spoke French with her closest friends in order to prevent others from understanding her conversations, Dedman said.
She only met personally with Bock a few times in more than 20 years, though she conducted meetings by phone, according to Dedman.
The elder Clark was one of the founders of the city of Las Vegas, and the county that surrounds it, Clark County, is named after him.
Clark was also a cause for the 17th Amendment, which institutes the direct election of senators, following a bribery scandal in which Clark sent thousands of dollars in cash to the state legislators of Montana, who went on to pick him as senator.
Clark served one six-year term as a U.S. senator from Montana, according to Dedman's research. Though he is largely forgotten in history, his quip, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale," remains in the lexicon.
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