Did This Reclusive Heiress Mean to Give Away $37 Million in Gifts?

At the time of her death last year, copper heiress Huguette Clark had amassed a fortune: her estate's estimated worth was $400 million dollars.

A fairly significant chunk of that money went to the people who helped her — $28 million to her nurse in the form of gifts, including three Manhattan apartments and a $1.2 million Stradivarius violin. Clark gave another nurse enough money to pay for the nurse's children's education, and to buy two apartments.

Now public administrator Ethel J. Griffin wants $37 million of that money back. The court is also investigating whether a hospital where Clark lived can hang on to its $6 million Manet painting.

The problem isn't that Clark was too generous — it's that she might not have been aware of what she was doing. Was she simply trying to provide nice things for the people who helped her, or was she being manipulated out of millions of dollars? The court is also looking into the advice given to Clark by her lawyer and accountant, who may have had agendas of their own.

Oh, and then there's the matter of her will.

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.

That's a separate legal battle entirely.

While Clark had a history of generosity, it's unclear what her mental state was at the time of her death. Not to mention the fact that her accountant Irving Kamsler and her lawyer Wallace Bock have been accused of separate sketchiness. A judge suspended them from overseeing Clark's estate after the public administrator accused them of underpaying her gift taxes by tens of millions of dollars.

But these men — and Clark's other gift recipients — insist that she was of sound mind and acting out of the kindness of her heart.

Deputy Public Administrator Joy A. Thompson isn't buying it.

It does not appear that anyone in a position of power or authority ever intervened to ensure that Mrs. Clark possessed the requisite capacity to make gifts and was acting of her own free will.

With so many separate ongoing disputes, it's not likely the issue of Clark's massive estate will be settled any time soon. Truly this reflects that age-old adage — "mo' money, mo' problems."

[Image via AP]