Huguette Clark, NYC Heiress, Leaves $34 Million to Nurse

Nurse, butler and long-lost homeless cousin get surprise inheritances.

June 23, 2011, 11:16 AM

June 23, 2011— -- In 1991, Hadassah Peri was randomly chosen to look after copper-mining heiress Huguette Clark, who chose to live as a recluse for decades at New York City's Beth Israel Hospital.

Clark died at the age of 104 in May, leaving Peri, a private nurse from Brooklyn, a rich woman -- $34 million to be exact, in addition to a valuable doll collection.

Legal papers filed in Manhattan's Surrogate's Court this week showed Clark's fortune to be $400 million, $14 million of which went to a god-daughter, but none to distant relatives. In her will. The heiress cited her longtime nurse as a "loyal friend and companion."

An inheritance like this can be the kiss of death -- or not -- for those who have always lived humble lives, say psychologists.

Those who have been able to anticipate eventual wealth or those like Peri, who have been devoted caretakers, may fare best.

"This may or may not be good," said Daniel Kegan, a Chicago psychologist and director of Elan Associates. "Obtaining a windfall acts as an amplifier of how you are living. If you are grounded, it can make things better for you. And if you're not, it can make it much worse."

"Celebrities give us good examples," he said. "If you've got a lot of money and are spending a lot of money, you frequent places that have more risk. And the more people want you to do bad things [with it]."

Lottery winners prove that money can often be more of a curse than blessing.

"Someone with a tendency for bad habits may indulge in those on a much larger scale," said Kegan.

William "Bud" Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. He was tormented by relatives and an ex-girlfriend for money and now lives on a $450-a-month Social Security check.

Another, $314.9 million Powerball winner Jack Whittaker, was sued by an Atlantic City casino in 2004 for writing bad checks.

Evelyn Adams, who won the $5.4 million in two New Jersey lotteries in 1985 and 1986, lost most of her fortune gambling.

Billie Bob Harrell Jr., who won $37 million in Texas, killed himself in 1997 when his marriage fell apart.

The problem with lottery winners is that they don't have a realistic "plan" for their new wealth, according to Steven Danish, director of the Life Skills Center and professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

"They don't expect to win," he said. "They hope and pray, but they don't have any plans. They just want to be rich...Then all of a sudden everyone is your relative. You don't know you have so many relatives."

Such may be the case with Peri, he said. But she was rewarded for faithful service to Clark, and there are other examples of those whose inheritances could positively change their lives.

In 2010, Nepalese IIndra Tamang inherited some of the most valuable real estate in New York City where he had been a cook and butler to the late actress Ruth Ford and her husband Zachary Scott.

Now, he owns two multi-million-dollar apartments at the famed Dakota building, where John and Yoko Lennon lived when the former Beatle was murdered in 1980.

Homeless Cousin Inherits Estate

Tamang's former employer of 36 years also remembered him with an $8.5 million Russian art collection. Ford ignored her two grandchildren and daughter Shelley Scott, who later challenged the will and got a small settlement.

Tamang, 58, planned to keep living in his modest Queens apartment, despite the inheritance. "I am satisfied living where I am," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Another, Max Melitzer of Sandy, Utah, had been homeless for decades before his cousin, Morris Melitzer of Schenectady, N.Y., died of prostate cancer in 2010.

The cousins had been estranged for 30 years. Lawyers set out to find Melitzer, to let him know he had inherited $100,000. A private detective eventually found him living out of a shopping cart.

Later, it was revealed that Max Melitzer had been the driver in a car accident that took the life of his wife and two friends in Wyoming in 1990. The tragedy left the man with emotional issues.

Despite that, Melitzer had been charitable with a local non-profit, trying to donate bread. The newfound money allowed Melitzer to return to New York and reunite with family.

Such good fortune may be the case with Huguette Clark's nurse Peri, who has, so far, shown a philanthropic spirit.

The nurse said she was "profoundly sad" about Clark's death and was "awed" by her boss's generosity, pledging to use her inheritance for good.

"Just as Madame Clark demonstrated kindness toward others in her actions," she told the New York Post, "so, too, will I and my family devote a substantial portion of this bequest toward making the world a better place for all people."

Psychologist Danish concluded that those like Tamang, nurse Peri and even Melitzer, may prove to be different from ill-fated lottery winners.

"They are people who have served another person and have been seemingly more willing to help than to take," he said. "If they are giving back before they get the money, it will likely continue. It can be very positive."

"So they really are continuing to serve," he said. "But with a lot more resources."

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