(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)