The name Huguette Clark may be unfamiliar to many in Michigan — or across the nation for that matter — but in the arena of estate planning and administration the name doesn’t seem to go away. The woman was a wealthy but reclusive copper heiress who passed away in 2011 at the age of 104.

For those that don’t know her or her family’s name, the estate disputes that have popped up after her death are a useful tool to understand what can happen during the administration of an estate — and why someone might seek the assistance of an estate attorney for a reason other than making your own estate plans.

Since the woman’s death, the $300 million estate remained unsettled, with the most recent piece of litigation involving the hospital that cared for the heiress in her final days. The public administrator in the jurisdiction filed a lawsuit on behalf of the estate and against the hospital that provided care for the woman in her final days. The claim was over whether her medical condition required hospitalization or if the hospital kept her there to earn more money.

The issue concerning her end-of-life care was thought to be settled in September, but now a nurse has come forward claiming that she was left out of the will in violation of a promise made by the woman. According to the nurse, the woman had promised to “provide for” the nurse in exchange for her 20-year service.

Estate representatives disagree with these claims, arguing that the nurse didn’t have the best intentions, pressuring the elderly woman to provide multi-million dollar gifts and benefits on multiple occasions.

Although this estate involves more money than the average Oakland County resident might be able to imagine, disputes are based on a variety of circumstances. The truth is that the value of an estate doesn’t necessarily determine whether probate or estate litigation will arise. A dispute may arise over an ambiguous term, undue influence or even whether the estate is being properly maintained.

Source: ABA Journal, “Night nurse for reclusive heiress seeks piece of $300 million estate,” Mark Hansen, Jan. 10, 2014

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