Interesting News from the World of Estate Planning

John O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC

Dueling Wills Incite Estate Battle

Huguette Clark (right), with her father, Senator William A. Clark and sister Andrée (left). Photo: Montana Historical Society via Wikimedia.

Huguette Clark (right), with her father, Senator William A. Clark and sister Andrée. Photo: Montana Historical Society via Wikimedia.

Wealthy, eccentric and reclusive, Huguette Clark didn’t venture outside from 1952 until her death in 2011. She lived the last 20 of her 104 years at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, paying cash for her private room. The heiress signed a will in 2005 that gave her estate to her family (most of whom she had not seen in decades).

Six weeks later, she signed a second will that explicitly cut out the family and instead gave large gifts to the hospital, her caregivers, and her professional advisors.

After her death in 2011, Clark’s relatives sued, claiming undue influence on the part of the hospital’s fundraising staff and some of the beneficiaries of the newer will. The parties recently agreed to a settlement that divides the $300 million estate between a foundation created in the second will, Clark’s relatives and the hospital, while cutting out most of her caregivers and advisors.

Wealth presents opportunities to be intentional about providing for your long term care, your loved ones, and your favorite charities.

Marilyn Loses Face in California

Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fancy footwork by Marilyn Monroe’s executors has ended up costing the estate millions as it lost control of its most priceless asset: exclusive commercial rights to the starlet’s image and likeness (in 2012 she ranked third on Forbes’ “Top Earning Dead Celebrities” list). Although the actress died in her California home, the estate initially claimed that she was a resident of New York. This legally absolved them from paying hefty estate taxes to California.

In 2005, Monroe’s estate sued Milton H. Greene Archives, Inc., alleging the unauthorized commercial use of Marilyn’s image and likeness. Greene Archives won because neither New York nor California had laws then granting posthumous publicity rights to deceased people’s estates.

California responded by changing its civil code to give rights of posthumous publicity to the estates of celebrities who died before 1985. The executors then appealed, suddenly claiming that Monroe died as a California resident rather than as a New Yorker, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their plea based on the doctrine of judicial estoppel, which prohibits litigants from making claims that contradict their own prior assertions. Milton H. Greene Archives, Inc. v. Marilyn Monroe LLC, No. 08-56471 (9th Cir. Aug. 30, 2012).