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Heir to fortune found dead under railroad overpass

People in California may have seen a recent article about a 60-year-old man who was found dead in Wyoming under a railway overpass. His body was discovered by children who were sledding; coroners believe the man died of exposure to the elements. The man, who may have been living as a transient, wasn't your average homeless person, however; he was the adopted great-grandson of former U.S. Senator and copper tycoon William Andrews Clark and heir to a vast sum of the family fortune.

William Andrews Clark's last surviving daughter died in 2011 as a recluse in a New York nursing home. At the time of her death, she controlled the family fortune of over $300 million. In her estate planning, she excluded her estranged family, leaving all of her money to various people in her life, including her nurse and her goddaughter. The man found in Wyoming would have been her half-great-nephew, and a potential heir to the fortune.

After her death, 19 of her relatives challenged her will, including a public administrator who had been acting on behalf of the deceased Wyoming great-nephew. As an heir, he would have been entitled to about $19 million from the family estate, but this money will now be split amongst the other surviving family members if their challenge of the will is successful. The challenge could go before a jury as soon as later this year.

This is a curious story about the remnants of a once mighty family empire and the dysfunction that may lead to the dissipation of the Clark family's vast wealth. It will be interesting to see how the probate court handles this issue and whether or not the family's claims will ultimately entitle them to a piece of their ancestor's fortunes.

Source: NBC News, "Potential heir to $300 million Clark copper fortune found dead, homeless," Bill Dedman, Aug. 16, 2013

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My Sacramento law practice, Michael A. Sawamura, Attorney at Law, focuses on wills, trusts and estate planning law in addition to business law and corporate defense services. My clients include professionals, government employees, small businesses, blue-collar workers and national corporations.

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