New York (September 26, 2013) - A multi-office team of lawyers from Holland & Knight played an important role in the final settlement Tuesday of the $300 million estate of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark in New York County Surrogate's Court. The firm filed the petition to admit Mrs. Clark's will to probate in June 2011 and represented the proponent from that time forward. The New York Attorney General's office was instrumental in achieving the settlement. The Attorney General joined in the talks because of the will's extensive charitable provisions.
When Mrs. Clark died at the age of 104, she left no descendants and a personal estate valued at more than $300 million. Mrs. Clark was the heiress to a Western mining, timber and railroad fortune left by her father, William Andrew Clark, also a former U.S. senator. She was the youngest of his seven children, and the only living child of her father's second marriage. She became a recluse and lived the past 20 years of her life in hospital rooms in New York City.
The last will and testament was seven pages long and had been executed in April 2005. The will made bequests to individuals and to the creation of an arts foundation at her estate in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her closest relatives, who were half grand nieces and nephews and half great-grand nieces and nephews (many of whom had never seen Mrs. Clark since the 1950s) challenged the will in court. The settlement reached Tuesday comes more than two years after the will's original filing, avoiding an anticipated lengthy trial with jury selection having begun last week in New York County Surrogate's Court. The trial had been delayed as progress was being made in the settlement talks. In addition to the will challenge, three other cases were brought against the firm's client involving his handling of Mrs. Clark’s affairs.
"Even before Mrs. Clark passed away in May 2011, it was apparent that the disposition of these matters would be challenging. Media attention in the summer of 2010 had brought national focus on her affairs even though she always wanted to maintain her strict privacy. From the date the will was filed for probate until today's settlement, media attention continued, including the publication just two weeks ago of Empty Mansions, a book by the reporter who had originally brought focus on Mrs. Clark before her death," said John D. Dadakis, the New York Chair of Holland & Knight's Private Wealth Services group.
Holland & Knight lawyers Bruce Ross and Charles Gibbs, located in the firm's Los Angeles and New York offices respectively, were co-lead counsel of the trial team. Assisting Mr. Ross and Mr. Gibbs were Bob Lang from the Tampa office, Stacie Nelson from the San Francisco office, and Brian Corrigan and Francesca Morris from the New York office. (Mr. Ross, Mr. Lang and Ms. Nelson were admitted pro hac vice to help handle this case in the New York County Surrogate’s Court.) Mr. Ross was instrumental in leading the settlement discussions to fruition on behalf of the firm's client. Negotiations had been ongoing since November 2012, with the final settlement brought together by the New York Attorney General's Office.
Mr. Ross stated, "We are pleased that Mrs. Clark's Santa Barbara mansion and its contents will become part of the Bellosguardo Foundation, fulfilling her testamentary wishes. For the past two years, we have been focused on preparing for trial and proving the validity of Mrs. Clark’s will which has now been admitted to probate. This settlement ensures that Mrs. Clark’s paramount wishes to promote the arts and provide for her goddaughter are carried out, with the majority of her estate not passing by intestacy."
Holland & Knight's Private Wealth Services litigation practice is the largest in the United States. The firm's lawyers have the experience and resources to handle high-profile cases such as the one involving the estate of Huguette Clark. They work as a team, calling upon the particular area of expertise needed for a matter. Holland & Knight lawyers across the U.S. represent high-net-worth individuals, substantial closely held and family businesses, charitable organization, educational institutions, banks and trust companies.
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