Heirs of wealthy, reclusive N.Y. heiress settle battle over will

Jonathan Allen

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Battling relatives and other beneficiaries on Tuesday resolved a dispute over the multimillion-dollar estate of Huguette Clark, one of America's wealthiest heiresses who died in New York City in 2011 at age 104.

Eleven lawyers for the squabbling parties, including distant relatives, her goddaughter, her nurse and other people named in the will, lined up before Judge Nora Anderson on Tuesday morning at Manhattan's Surrogate's Court to say they had settled after a final volley of emails at 2 a.m.

The deal they agreed to, which Anderson endorsed as "a fair result," combines elements from two contradictory wills executed six weeks apart in 2005.

Clark's goddaughter and nearly two dozen grandnieces and grandnephews or their children, many of whom said they had never met the reclusive heiress, stand to inherit large sums under the settlement. The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. would get a $10 million gift and a 50 percent discount on purchasing Claude Monet's "Water Lilies," a painting owned by Clark.

Hadassah Peri, who nursed Clark during her final decades in a Manhattan hospital room while her mansions in some of the country's wealthiest neighborhoods sat empty, had stood to inherit Clark's valuable doll collection under the second will. Under the settlement, she and Wallace Bock, Clark's lawyer, will get nothing, their lawyers said.

The settlement averted a potentially lengthy and antagonistic trial, for which jury selection had begun last week before the judge paused the proceedings, as the prospect of a settlement became more likely.

"There's nothing like a prospect of a hanging to focus the mind," Harvey Corn, a lawyer for Peri, told the court. "We thank the court for providing the rope."

Clark inherited her fortune from her father, William A. Clark, a copper magnate who was one of the country's wealthiest men at the time of his death in 1925, and was reported to have whiled away her final years in her hospital room at Beth Israel playing with her doll collection.

Her estate is reportedly valued at some $300 million.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)