Irregularities Point Out Importance Of Estate Administrator Choice

The main reason most people hire an attorney to create a will or trust is to make their wishes known and provide for their heirs in the event of their passing. But another crucial aspect of estate planning is to ensure that the responsibility for carrying out those wishes is assigned to the right person. If the decision around selecting an executor or estate administrator is not made carefully, the consequences can be very unfortunate.

An elderly woman was the last remaining heir of an estate left to her by her father. She had no children. It was reported this week that since her death last year, at 104 years of age, a judge has found evidence of tax fraud perpetrated by here estate administrators. The details of her will were not reported.

The deceased heiress was the sole surviving child of William A. Clark, who was once of the richest men in our country. Clark was a copper magnate, who spent years in Butte, Montana, and created Las Vegas as a stopover point for his railroads that ran between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Clark was also a U.S. senator, and according to the news report, was accused of buying his Senate seat, leading to a constitutional amendment regarding how senators are elected.

He spent the last 20 years of his life managing his business interests and investing in art. Clark died in 1925, leaving an estate valued at $200 million.

After Clark’s wife died, their daughter became a recluse, seldom leaving her home. She eventually moved into a hospital at some point during the 1980s and lived there, for more than 20 years, until the time of her death. The report did not state her mental capabilities or the terms of her estate planning, other than the estate’s value was estimated at $400 million.

Her two estate administrators were both suspended last week after a judge found evidence of $90 million in unpaid federal gift taxes and IRS penalties. Both estate administrators have denied any wrongdoing.

While this incident involves a substantial estate, individuals and families of more modest means can also benefit from this example of the fact that choosing reputable estate administrators is critical to ensuring your wishes are carried out.

Source: The Washington Times, “Montana mansion holds legacy of copper king,” Nicholas K. Geranios, March 1, 2012