Her nurse was showered with almost $28 million in gifts, including three Manhattan apartments, two homes elsewhere and a $1.2 million Stradivarius violin. Her doctors' families received more than $3 million in presents. A night nurse received a salary plus money to cover her children's school tuition and to help buy two apartments.
Now the court-appointed official overseeing copper heiress Huguette Clark's estate wants all these gifts -- and more -- back.
Saying the recipients manipulated the reclusive multimillionaire into lavishing largesse upon them during her long life, public administrator Ethel J. Griffin is trying to reclaim a whopping $37 million for the $400 million estate.
Besides seeking an order for return of those gifts, the administrator asked a court last month to investigate whether a hospital where Clark lived should have to give back a $6 million painting by French pre-Impressionist Edouard Manet and whether the prominent Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington should have to return $250,000.
While clashes over who got what and how during someone's lifetime crop up in many will fights, the staggering size, two-decade timeframe and uncommon circumstances distinguish the dispute surrounding Clark's gifts.
A court will likely have to reconstruct the intentions and mental state of an eccentric woman who died at 104 last year, and discern whether manipulation or gratitude was behind the gift-giving. Another issue is how well Clark was advised by her lawyer and her accountant. Both have come under scrutiny for their management of her affairs.
"It's like piecing together a puzzle or a mystery," says Laura Stegossi, a Philadelphia estates lawyer who isn't connected to the Clark case.
The public administrator's court papers portray a frail, secluded Clark exploited by a scheming retinue. But recipients say Clark was a generous, independent-minded woman who did exactly what she wanted in enriching people around her.
A separate fight is roiling over what will ultimately become of Clark's fortune. The last will she apparently signed, in April 2005, leaves most of her money to charity, with a more than $30 million bequest to her private nurse. Another will, signed six weeks earlier, left her estate mostly to about 20 great-nieces and great-nephews. They are challenging the latest will.