Friday, December 23, 2011

Intrigue Surrounds Heiress' Death at 104

In the course of posting cartoons from The Minneapolis Tribune Cartoon Book for 1901: Being a Collection of Over One Hundred Cartoons by R.C. Bowman last year, I included a series of cartoons about Montana Senator, newspaper publisher and copper mining millionaire William Andrews Clark. Those cartoons caught the eye of reporter Bill Dedman, who has been covering the legal tangle over the financial affairs of Clark's sole heir, Huguette Clark, who died this past May at the age of 104 after living almost her entire adult life as a total recluse.

To explain the cartoon again: William Clark was elected to the U.S. Senate from Montana (with the strong support of the newspaper he owned) but forced to resign when evidence of bribery surfaced. Still determined to keep the office he had bought and paid for, he arranged for Montana's Lieutenant Governor to appoint him Senator on the same day Clark resigned -- the Governor being conveniently out of the state that day.

Whereas other robber barons (sorry, I mean Job Creators) of the day, such as Rockefeller and Carnegie, left civic and charitable institutions to bear their names, Senator Clark left his name only to Nevada's Clark County, keeping his money in the family after he died in 1925.

Since corresponding with Mr Dedman, I've been following the story of the Clark estate with some interest, and there are new developments today.

"Based on 'shocking' evidence of tax fraud, a judge on Friday suspended [Ms. Clark's] attorney and accountant ... from handling her $400 million estate.
"The judge said there was more than enough evidence that the two men engaged in a tax fraud that allowed the elderly woman to run up an IRS bill of $90 million in unpaid gift taxes, interest and potential penalties."
The judge in the case declined to rule on the question of allowing descendants from Senator Clark's first marriage to enter into the legal dispute, which involves two wills signed six weeks apart in 2005, when Huguette was 98. The first leaves most of her fortune to those descendants; they are cut out of the second will entirely, although the aforementioned attorney and accountant would make out handsomely from it.

Bill Dedman's series on the Clark case is on line on this page.

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