(NEW YORK) — The generous gifts Huguette Clark lavished upon her doctors and nurses are being questioned in a high-powered battle playing out in a New York courtroom over the late copper heiress’ estate.
Ethel Griffin, a court-appointed official, is trying to reclaim $37 million in gifts the reclusive heiress gave to her doctors and nurses over the course of the two decades she lived in New York City hospitals. Clark’s estate is said to total around $400 million.
Griffin alleges Clark’s mental state could have led her to have been easily manipulated into giving grand gifts to her medical team.
She has also asked the court to investigate whether the hospital where Clark lived for two decades should return a $6 million Edouard Manet painting and whether a Washington art museum should return a $250,000 gift.
Clark’s longtime attorney, Wallace Bock, wrote in an affidavit in 2010 before the heiress’ death that his client “has always been a strong-willed individual with firm convictions about how her life should be led and who should be privy to her affairs.”
Bock said the two nieces and a nephew named in the petition are “very distant relatives of Ms. Clark, who have only recently appeared on the scene.”
Clark’s last will was believed to have been signed in April 2005, bequeathing most of her fortune to charity. Her private nurse was allocated at least $30 million. However, a will apparently signed just weeks before mandated Clark’s estate be left to her 20 great-nieces and great-nephews, who are now fighting a legal battle for the fortune of an aunt they likely never met.
Though Clark had a 42-room apartment on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and sprawling estates in California and Connecticut, she lived quietly for decades in a hospital room, most recently at Beth Israel Medical Center, dying two weeks shy of her 105th birthday.
“Ms. Clark has explicitly instructed me on many occasions that she does not want visitors and does not want anyone — including her relatives — to know where she resides,” Bock wrote in a 2010 filing, adding “Ms. Clark has been a very private person for as long as I have known her. She has often expressed to me her desire to maintain her privacy.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Brian Stelter, CNN Money
Sam Turner, Deseret News