The Story of Heiress Huguette Clark

Woman Silhouette(Another interesting bio by my accountant friend, Barbara, who last shared with us the story of bank robber Willie Sutton. Just goes to show that money can’t buy us love!!)

Heiress Huguette Clark, who was born in 1906 and died last May at 104, was America’s last living link to the 1890s “Gilded Age.” Her father, William A. Clark, was Montana’s “Copper King” and, according to her New York Times obituary, “once bought himself a United States Senate seat as casually as another man might buy a pair of shoes.”

Huguette grew up in a 121-room mansion, at the corner of New York’s Fifth Avenue and 77th Street, that cost three times as much as Yankee Stadium.

But her life soon took an odd turn. She married, for just a year at age 22, then got a quickie Reno divorce. (Her husband claimed they never even consummated the marriage.) Then she and her mother withdrew almost completely from view. The last known photograph of her was taken in 1930, and she rarely appeared in public after her mother’s death in 1963.

Clark may have been shy, but she was no miser. She spent most of her life in a 42-room coop at Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street, said to be the largest park view apartment in the city, and worth an estimated $100 million. (She left in an ambulance in 1988 and never came back.) She owned a 21,666-square-foot mansion called “Bellosguardo,” or “lovely view,” on 23 acres overlooking the Pacific in Santa Barbara, CA. (She stopped visiting sometime in the 1950s, and reportedly turned down a $100 million offer to sell it to Beanie Baby founder Ty Warner.) And in 1952, she bought a 22-room mansion on 52 acres in New Canaan, CT. (She added a new wing to the house and hired caretakers to live on the grounds — but never spent a single night there herself.)

Huguette had so little contact with the world that some people wondered if she was actually still alive. It turns out she spent her last 22 years in a series of ordinary rooms at New York hospitals. She had few visitors during this time, and little contact with anyone outside these facilities. But her few contacts included her attorney, Wally Bock, and her accountant, Irving Kamsler. And that’s where Clark’s Gilded Age story begins to tarnish.

Clark was worth half a billion dollars at her death. She left the bulk of her fortune to charity, with smaller bequests to her longtime nurse ($30 million), her goddaughter ($12 million), and her attorney and accountant ($500,000 each). You would think she’d be able to pay her taxes, right? But property records show the IRS filed four liens for unpaid taxes — $1 million in 2006, $1.1 million and $41,000 in 2007, and $7,400 in 2008. Even worse, according to a Probate Court filing, the pair had let unpaid federal gift taxes and penalties accrue — to the tune of $90 million!

It turns out both the attorney Bock and accountant Kamsler have a history of questionable conduct. When Bock’s former law partner Donald Wallace died, after revising his will six times in the last few years of his life, Bock and Kamsler wound up inheriting $100,000 in cash each — plus Wallace’s Mercedes and his Upper East Side apartment. They even collected $368,000 in fees on the $4 million estate! And, just by the way, Kamsler is also a convicted felon and registered sex offender, who plead guilty in 2007 to attempting to disseminate indecent material to minors in an online “chat room.”

As Huguette Clark’s bizarre story reminds us, money really can’t buy happiness. Our job as accountants, of course, is to help you pay the minimum tax allowed by law. But before you ask us what we can do to help you pay less, ask yourself how those savings will improve your life. Are you working to put your children through college? Build security for your retirement? Or are you looking for life’s little “extras,” like traveling in style? Those are the real benefits we work to give you — not just numbers on your annual IRS “scorecard!”

Barbara Richardson is an accountant with SpringWell Financial – a full-service Certified Public Accounting and personal financial consulting company dedicated to empowering individuals and small businesses to financial freedom.

PS: Here’s another awesome article on Huguette Clark (with lots of pictures!) via MSNBC:
At 104, the mysterious heiress Huguette Clark is alone now

(Photo by Robb North)

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  1. Alex March 8, 2012 at 6:59 AM

    Thats a crazy story. I doubt she actually cared how sketchy her CPA was… But I should do!

  2. BrokeElizabeth March 8, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    This is kind of a sad story :( she didn’t sound very happy.

  3. Michelle March 8, 2012 at 8:25 AM

    I’ve read about her story before, and I definitely still think it’s sad. Money cannot buy happiness.

  4. Money Infant March 8, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    The thing that I wonder about is why she didn’t simply hire medical staff to take care of her in her home on 5th Avenue? With her money she could have hired full time doctors and nurses and purchased whatever other equipment she might have needed. Strange and sad story, though who knows maybe she was quite content and happy with her life.

  5. J. Money March 8, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    @Alex – Heck yeah! Just a crazy situation altogether for her – who knows what was really going on throug her head :(
    @BrokeElizabeth – I know, I don’t think she was :( Which is incredibly interesting considering the amount of money she had!
    @Michelle – A perfect example of that too. This stuff fascinates the pants off of me.
    @Money Infant – Yeah, perhaps? Maybe she liked living on the down low :)

  6. Dollar D @ The Dollar Disciple March 8, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    Wow, that’s really sad… so much money and no one to enjoy it with!

  7. Autumn March 8, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    I think that this is an excellent example of how money cannot buy happiness. I may not be a billionaire, but I have a wonderful partner, three beautiful children and a group of family and friends that are a blessing daily. I feel very sorry for her and I hope that she is at peace now because it sounds like those that she did trust to take care of her weren’t that trustworthy after all.

  8. savvyfinanciallatina March 8, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    Love this post! I actually posted a quote on my wall from Dale Carnegie that relates to this post.
    “Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions — it is governed by your mental attitude.” -Carnegie
    I have to remind myself of this when I get down. Life is what you make of it!

  9. SansMoneyStress March 8, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    Thanks for this post! It’s very thoughtful. The story is great but I especially appreciate your last paragraph about considering what you want from money. Everyone knows that they want it. Not everyone makes a thoughtful plan about how they will/should use it.

  10. Finance my Money March 9, 2012 at 2:19 AM

    “Shirtsleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations”

    When our system rewards through entrepreneurial spirits we find that it is very hard to maintain the momentum and hunger of someone “coming up from nothing” and rising from the ashes and having this same fire carried on to their children. It is simply a rule of human nature and the quote above is apt and found in so many cultures as to shed some truth on its universality. The above case speaks to this.

    I’m sure everyone here has read The Millionaire Next Door and one of the prominent statistics shows that most American millionaires are first generation millionaires. Of course, the big big money has different stories but those stuffing away and making it on their own usually work more than your typical 8 to 5 schedule. They are usually thinking, planning, and desiring the freedom that comes from financial independence. Do the kids carry this same fire? Not always.

  11. J. Money March 9, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    @Dollar D @ The Dollar Disciple – I know :(
    @Autumn – You have a great life over there, soak it all in! :)
    @savvyfinanciallatina – Yes! Awesome one indeed – I like that :) Thanks for passing it along.
    @SansMoneyStress – Oh yeah, for sure – I love how she gets you to stop and think for a bit. Glad you enjoyed it :)
    @Finance my Money – I think you raise some excellent points here, my friend. Never heard of that quote before either, I enjoy seeing new ones :) Thanks for the comment!

  12. Frugal Fries March 10, 2012 at 8:19 PM

    I don’t want to be that guy (erm, gal) but, who said she was unhappy? I don’t see how this is definitive proof that she was living as a depressed old shrew. Some people really do enjoy their privacy. I did some research on this enigmatic character, and it turns out she is quoted as saying that “money is a menace to happiness.” Though I don’t know if this alone really states much about her level of happiness.

    It was also cited that she found difficulty trusting people, so she opted for a private life with a small group of close friends.

    Both her accountant and attorney sound dodgy as heck though.

    I have no idea why I am defending a deceased person’s happiness, but I am tired of people describing wealth as though it were being weighed against happiness. One doesn’t always directly affect the other.

  13. J. Money March 11, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    True true – the story above doesn’t say it all, but I’m fairly certain in the other articles it said she was depressed a lot. Could be wrong though – no shame in wanting to be more secluded if it’s what you truly want!

    Love your site btw – great concept and designs :)