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When is Charitable Giving Elder Abuse?

6a017d3e6b2617970c01910314a283970c-320wi.jpgFor the last 20 years of her life, Huguette Clark, a wealthy and reclusive copper heiress, lived in a Manhattan hospital room, shades drawn, door closed. She played with dolls, watched cartoons and followed the Bush v. Gore hanging chad debacle. (She favored Gore). Within months of her arrival, the hospital, Beth Israel Medical Center, went after her for an all-out fund-raising campaign.

Have you read about the matter of the late Huguette Clark, her massive inheritance, and the hospital that may or may not have exerted undue influence on her aging mind and bank accounts? Ms. Clark was fantastically wealthy. During the last twenty years of her life, the reclusive copper heiress spent an absolutely inordinate amount of time in the hospital. She had few afflictions other than loneliness.

After her passing, it did not take long for questions to arise regarding how the hospital pushed to care for a not-so-infirm woman for so long and just so happened to be receiving sizable donations from her all the while. What may be worse is that the allegations may be true and there are some interesting, perhaps damning, tidbits.

This scenario and the questions it raises were reported recently in The New York Times in an article titled "Hospital Caring for an Heiress Pressed Her to Give Lavishly." The article chronicles the last lonely years on Ms. Clark's life.

Remember, she was only all-too-human. If manipulation was afoot, what should be done about it and, closer to home, how can such manipulation be prevented in our own estates or those of our already senior loved ones?

But then there is the reverse side of the coin: what if it was not manipulation at all? Then Ms. Clark's wishes and last charitable actions are being drawn through the mud for not having been fully articulated.

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