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IRS may decide fate of Clark bequest to the arts

Properly executed wills and other legal estate documents might not always provide anticipated security, especially for a person who has an exorbitant amount of wealth. This has proven true regarding Clark County's namesake family. Estate administration & probate after the death of copper magnate Senator William Clark's daughter has been a two-year dispute among relatives and named heirs.

Huguette Clark, a recluse living in hospital rooms for 20 years until her death in 2011, was an avid art and doll collector who shunned public life. Her father created an empire out of mines and railroads, using his great wealth to build several mansions, including the largest house in America. While this 121-room primary residence was in New York, a beautiful oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara known as Bellosguardo was a favorite getaway spot for the heiress until the 1950s. It, along with her other properties, has been meticulously maintained intact over the years. It is this 23-room mansion that is earmarked through the settlement of her $300 million estate to be the centerpiece of the non-profit foundation meant to foster the arts.

It was alleged that the 104-year-old woman was a victim of unscrupulous advisers. Financial claims of relatives preceded the necessity for court intervention to settle the estate. A resulting problem is the $18 million in IRS penalties for delays in gift tax payments associated with Miss Clark's generosity over the years. Reportedly, state authorities are requesting waiver of the fees, citing the huge percentage of the estate donated to charities. If the requests for waivers are declined, the community will find the foundation starting out cash-poor. According to local officials, they likely would have to sell the mansion that was to be its core.

Even with a valid will, bequests can involve minor skirmishes between siblings that are easily resolved or huge conflicts that require court solutions. In any event, the key to wealth protection and one's wishes being honored is an informed estate plan that takes into account as many circumstances as can be foreseen.

Source: Santa Fe - New Mexican, "A tangled estate of affairs for Santa Barbara's majestic Bellosquardo" Scott Gold, Nov. 06, 2013

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