By Bill Dedman
Investigative Reporter, NBC News
NEW YORK — A last-ditch effort at a settlement is delaying Tuesday's scheduled start of the trial to determine who will inherit the $300 million estate of Huguette M. Clark, the reclusive heiress to a copper mining fortune, attorneys said Monday.
To allow time for negotiations, jury selection has been put off until Thursday morning in Surrogate's Court in Lower Manhattan.
The office of the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is trying to broker a settlement, attorneys said. His office's Charities Bureau has made previous attempts, but Clark's relatives, who are challenging her last will and testament, have not been able to find common ground with the beneficiaries named in the will.
It wasn't clear Monday night how close a settlement might be. Several of the more than 60 attorneys in the case declined to comment. Schneiderman's office had no comment.
Huguette (pronounced "oo-GET") Marcelle Clark was the youngest daughter of former U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), one of the copper kings of Montana and one of the richest men of the Gilded Age, a railroad builder and founder of Las Vegas. Born in Paris in 1906, Huguette was a shy painter and doll collector who spent her last 20 years living in simple hospital rooms. She attracted the attention of NBC News in 2009 because her fabulous homes in Connecticut, California and New York sat unoccupied but carefully maintained.
Clark's will stated emphatically that none of her money should go to her relatives, who are descended from the first marriage of her father. The relatives challenged the will, claiming it was the product of fraud, that Clark was incompetent and that the signing ceremony was faulty.
The beneficiaries include a new charitable foundation for the arts in California, based at the Clark summer home, called Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara; Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, where she died at age 104; her private-duty registered nurse, who already received more than $30 million in gifts while Clark lived; a goddaughter; and Clark's attorney, accountant, doctor and other employees.
Bill Dedman is the co-author of the new book "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune." The co-author is Paul Clark Newell Jr., Huguette Clark's cousin, who is not one of the relatives in line for her fortune if the will is overturned.
Other stories in the Clark series: