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Agreement brings years-long feud over heiress's estate to a close

Heiress Huguette Clark spent much of her life shrouded in privacy. Clark, whose fortune stems from the copper industry and the establishment of Las Vegas, chose to live outside of the public eye and lived in a hospital for the last two decades of her life. Just as Clark's life was surrounded by mystery, so was her death at the age of 104. Within a period of six weeks years before she passed, the heiress signed two drastically different wills, which triggered a contentious round of probate litigation.

In her first will, Clark gave most of her fortune to distant relatives. On the other hand, the second document allocated her fortune to charity, her personal nurse and others who were active in her life.

Under most circumstances, the second will would have superseded the first, since it would have been the most up-to-date legal document. However, Clark's relatives challenged the validity of the second will, claiming that her attorney and accountant took advantage of the woman. The beneficiaries countered by saying the woman wanted to give her assets to those who were actually present in her life.

Not long ago, the feuding parties came to an agreement, nearly two years after Clark died. Reports from the New York Times indicate that most of her estate will be given to charity and her distant relatives.

Even though a will may clearly lay out beneficiaries, challenges can be made during the probate process. In order for a will to be enforced, it must be valid. Specifically, coercion and incompetence may be grounds to contest a will. If a person's loved one fears that the last will and testament doesn't actually reflect a person's final wishes, they be able to take legal action.

At the same time, certain parties may challenge the validity of a will simply because they feel left out. If a will is indeed valid, the terms must be upheld no matter how much someone protests.

It's clear that legal challenges to a will can be very complicated. Still, it is very important to make sure a person's legacy is upheld. As such, those who are looking to defend or contest a will may benefit from a clear understanding of their legal options.

Source: New York Times, "Deal Over Heiress's Two Wills Benefits Charities and Family," Sept. 24, 2013

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