November 29, 2011 / 8:33 PM / 6 years ago

Family of reclusive U.S. copper heiress disputes will

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The family of a reclusive U.S. copper heiress shut out of her $400 million estate has produced a previously undiscovered will that purports to leave her wealth to her family rather than bequeathing it to the arts.

Huguette Clark, one of the most privileged children of New York’s turn-of-the-century Gilded Age, died in relative obscurity in May at age 104 after choosing to spend decades living in hospitals under pseudonyms.

As a child she had lived in a 121-room mansion filled with priceless artwork overlooking New York’s Central Park.

The will that surfaced upon her death left most of her money to a charitable foundation overseen by her accountant and attorney, who also received $500,000 each. Both men are under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office over the handling of her financial affairs.

But court papers released on Monday pointed to another will, signed six weeks earlier, that leaves the bulk of her fortune to her family. Clark had no children.

The family’s attorney, John Morken, said in court papers that Clark’s longtime attorney and accountant methodically manipulated the aging heiress.

“Before the court are substantial and gravely serious issues of alleged deceit, undue influence and exploitation of a very elderly and extraordinarily wealthy woman at the hands of two professionals who, with the help of certain others, took control of her life, isolated her from family, and ultimately stripped her of her free will, as well as millions of dollars,” Morken wrote.

Neither Clark’s attorney Wallace Bock nor accountant Irving Kamsler responded to calls for comment, though both men have previously denied any improprieties in their handling of the estate. Morken was unavailable for comment.

Questions about Kamsler and Bock’s stewardship of Clark’s fortune were first raised last year in a series of MSNBC television investigative reports.

At stake is a portfolio of riches that dates back to the turn-of-the-century age of powerful robber barons, when Clark’s father leveraged his wealth and influence into a U.S. Senate seat.

The estate’s holdings include a massive beachfront estate in Santa Barbara, California, three apartments on Manhattan’s exclusive Fifth Avenue, a $20 million compound in New Canaan, Connecticut, and a museum’s worth of paintings by Renoir, Monet and Degas.

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