Fight over heiress' will ends in deal in NY court

Fight over Montana copper heiress' $300M estate officially ends in deal in NYC court

Associated Press
Fight over heiress' will ends in deal in NY court
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FILE - In this Aug. 11, 1930, file photo, Huguette Clark, a copper magnate from Montana, poses for a …

NEW YORK (AP) -- A feud over how an enigmatic heiress meant to bequeath a $300 million fortune made in Montana copper mines and the beginnings of Las Vegas was settled Tuesday, with a deal that mainly benefits arts charities and her distant relatives.

A nurse who once stood to inherit as much as $30 million from Huguette Clark will instead have to give back more than $5 million received during Clark's lifetime, and a lawyer and an accountant whose work for Clark came under question won't get bequests that went to them in a disputed will.

The settlement was filed in court and got a judge's approval Tuesday. Word of a pact emerged over the weekend, as a likely two-month trial loomed over the true intentions of a reclusive woman who died at 104 and signed two starkly different wills within six weeks when she was 98.

"This result is a fair result," Manhattan Surrogate's Court Judge Nora Anderson said.

Clark died in 2011, leaving no close relatives. Her father, U.S. Sen. William A. Clark, made his wealth from mining and the establishment of Las Vegas, among other ventures.

Rarely seen in public since at least the 1960s, Huguette Clark had elected to live in since 1991 in a Manhattan hospital, rather than her grand homes in Manhattan, Santa Barbara, Calif., and New Canaan, Conn.

Her circumstances came under question in 2010, when some descendants of her half-siblings unsuccessfully asked a court to bar her lawyer and accountant from involvement in her affairs. The two have denied wrongdoing.

Then the two wills emerged. The first left most of her money to her distant relations. The second cut them out, giving bequests to arts charities, the nurse, a goddaughter, the hospital and others.

The relatives said caregivers and advisers had manipulated Clark. The beneficiaries said she showed deliberate generosity to those most involved in her life.

The nurse, Hadassah Peri, worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks for Clark for years, said her lawyer, Harvey Corn. He said Peri was "very happy to contribute to the settlement," though she will inherit nothing and give back about a fifth of $30 million in gifts before Clark's death.

In the two biggest bequests, the deal gives a newly created arts foundation about $100 million, including the estimated $85 million Santa Barbara estate, and 20 Clark family members receive a total of $34.5 million.

The oceanfront Santa Barbara property is envisioned as an arts center, which Mayor Helene Schneider hailed as "an amazing opportunity." Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art is to get at least $10 million.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office, which got involved in the case to protect nonprofits' interests, said the pact would "ensure that Huguette Clark's charitable wishes are fulfilled."

The relatives, meanwhile, portrayed the settlement in a statement as "a strong message that those entrusted with the care of the elderly will be held accountable for their actions."

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