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What is a NY kinship case? Estate of Huguette Clark

25
Mar

By Jason Stern

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As a NYC estate lawyer with more than two decades of experience litigating NY kinship estate cases I have come to realize no two NY kinship estates are alike.  Pursuant to NY estate law a NY kinship estate occurs when someone passes away without a will, also known as intestacy, and without any known surviving relatives such as a spouse, children or parents.  Eventually the NY estate is administered by the Office of the Public Administrator who has jurisdiction over such estates in NYC.  The Public Administrator’s Office will quickly liquidate the assets of the NY estate and then file their judicial accounting in the NY kinship estate.  The within accounting will be served on all suspected heirs of the NY kinship estate who are then invited to come to court with their NYC estate lawyer to prove their kinship with the decedent as claimants.  

Pursuant to EPTL 4-1.1 of the NY estate law, for kinship to be established each claimant of the NY estate must make a showing to the Court of both 1) how each claimant of the NYC estate is related to the decedent and 2) that no other person of the same or nearer degree of relationship survived the decedent.  Upon proof that no heirs other than those before the court exist, the class of heirs may be closed under the NY estate law and the claimants can prevail in their NY kinship estate.  For example, if cousins are claimants of the NY kinship estate, their NY estate lawyer must prove that the decedent was not survived by any closer relatives such as siblings, nieces or nephews.  Occasionally, not often but occasionally, even NY estates that include a will may become NY kinship estates if the NY will is successfully contested and later invalidated by NY will contest lawyers.  

Estate of Huguette Clark

The body of a homeless man was found beneath an icy Wyoming underpass in the town of Evanston, at the end of 2012.  The man was Timothy Henry Gray.  Gray’s 60 year old body had succumbed to hypothermia from the brutal subfreezing temperatures of the Midwest.  What nobody knew was that Gray is the grandnephew of the late, eccentric NY heiress, Huguette Clark.  At the time of Clark’s death in 2011 her estate was valued in excess of $300 million dollars before deducting for estate taxes.  Huguette Clark’s father, William A. Clark, had not only been a United States Senator but was also one of the biggest copper mining magnates of the twentieth century’s gilded age.  

Huguette Clark who passed away at the age of 104 had spent the last two decades of her life living within the confines of NYC’s Beth Israel Hospital.  Clark did not live there involuntarily, but rather chose to live there because of the high quality of medical care she was afforded by the doctors, nurses and caregivers who had sadly become her only family.  Clark who had neither a spouse nor children, and had no contact with her distant relatives throughout her entire life.  So it was no surprise to those who knew her best that Huguette Clark would leave the majority of her $300 million dollars to staff at Beth Israel Hospital including but not limited to the hospital itself.  In fact, Clark’s most recent April, 2005 will, completely disinherited any and all of her heirs from her NY estate.  

Upon her 2011 passing, nineteen of Clark’s heirs hired NYC will contest lawyers to contest Huguette Clark’s NY will.  Despite the family of Huguette Clark admittedly having nothing to do with her throughout her entire lifetime, 19 grandnephews and nieces came forward to contest her NY estate in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.  The 19 grandnephews and nieces alleged Huguette Clark’s caregivers of exerting undue influence over her NY estate causing her to exclude her nonexistent family from her NY will.  Once each claimant’s kinship to Huguette Clark was established to the satisfaction of the Court, NY estate lawyers were able to settle the Clark Estate.  The settlement agreed to by the NY estate lawyers granted Clark’s 19 heirs $34.5 million dollars of her NY estate.  As such, had Huguette Clark’s grandnephew, Timothy Henry Gray, survived long enough to successfully contest Clark’s NY estate and prove his kinship to the decedent, this homeless individual would have inherited $1,725,000.00 from a distant relative he never even met.

As a New York Kinship Lawyer, I cannot stress the value of having an attorney drafted will enough.  The best way to handle a NY kinship case is to avoid one by having a validly executed and supervised will. However, if you or a loved one are the distributee of someone who died without a will and in need of legal counseling from an experienced New York Kinship Lawyer, please call one of our Estate Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.  Our Queens estate lawyers have over 60 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often treacherous NY kinship cases for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.

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