The 2013 book “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune,” was a #1 New York Times bestseller in the fall of 2013. It is the story of a young heiress to an copper mining fortune, her life, and her eccentricities. In this case, the book reveals that she built mansions that nobody ever lived in, but which were immaculately kept up. She lived in an apartment – she never occupied them. It’s causes the reader to ponder “What is wealth? What is it … for??”
The private lives of the rich and famous are endlessly tantalizing to readers. But as the story of Ms. Clark shows us, an inheritance, in a wealthy family, can be destructive.
When is someone merely private and reclusive, and when is it paranoia or mental illness? When are relatives justified in battling with lawyers over a family fortune, and when are they parasites? It’s not easy to untangle.
Ms. Clark’s life was from 1906 to 2011, if you can imagine such a span of history.
An estate planning attorney reads this true story, and weeps. Even if your “fortune” consists only of equity in a house and a small savings, make sure that you learn from this fascinating story. Don’t make the same mistakes.