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Originally published Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 4:45 PM

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Tentative deal in a battle over the will of an heiress

The tentative settlement will give the relatives about $34.5 million after taxes under the deal, a source said.

By The Associated Press and The New York Times

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NEW YORK — A tentative deal has been reached in a New York court fight over the will of a reclusive Montana copper-mining heiress that would give more than $30 million of her $300 million estate to her distant relatives, a person familiar with the case said Saturday.

The breakthrough in the fight over Huguette Clark’s estate comes after jury selection started in a trial pitting nearly two dozen of her half-siblings’ descendants against a goddaughter, a hospital where she spent the last 20 years of her life, a nurse, doctors, a lawyer and others.

An April 2005 will cut out her distant relatives. Another will, six weeks earlier, left them most of her money.

The tentative settlement will give the relatives about $34.5 million after taxes under the deal, a source said. Clark’s lawyer, Wallace Bock, and accountant, Irving Kamsler, would get nothing; her chief nurse, Hadassah Peri, would get nothing and would have to give back $5 million and a doll collection valued at about $1.6 million, according to lawyers involved in the case. Bock, Kamsler and Peri would be able to keep gifts that Clark had left them while she was alive; in Peri’s case, more than $30 million worth.

The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clark owned lavish properties, from New York’s Fifth Avenue to the California coast but opted to spend her final two decades ensconced in a Manhattan hospital. The childless Clark died in 2011, at age 104.

Her father, U.S. Sen. William Clark, was one of the richest Americans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He served as a senator from Montana, where he initially made his fortune from copper mines. His business empire later grew to include building a Western rail line and establishing a Nevada railroad town called Las Vegas. The surrounding Clark County is named for him.

Jury selection started Thursday in the trial over the validity of the April 2005 will.

“The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my estate are the true objects of my bounty,” that will said, noting that she’d had only “minimal contacts” with her relatives over the years.

Under the tentative settlement, Clark’s mansion in California, Bellosguardo, would become a foundation, as envisioned in the second will, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where her father’s art collection fills a wing, would get $10 million, lawyers said. Clark’s valuable doll collection would go to the newly created Bellosguardo Foundation, according to one of the parties.

Clark was briefly married in her 20s. Her assistant has said she didn’t leave her apartment for decades before she was taken, emaciated and beset by advanced skin cancer, to Beth Israel Medical Center in 1991.

Doctors said she was medically ready to leave months later. But she chose to stay for two decades, at a cost of about $400,000 a year. And she rewarded the hospital beyond that and her caregivers.

Gifts to Peri, Clark’s chief nurse, included multiple Manhattan apartments and a $1.2 million Stradivarius violin, and she stood to get $30 million in the disputed will. Clark’s primary doctor received cash Christmas presents totaling $500,000, among other gifts, plus a $100,000 bequest that he was preparing to relinquish before testifying at the trial, according to court documents.

The hospital got hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a $3.5 million painting by French pre-Impressionist Edouard Manet and a $1 million bequest.

Clark’s accountant and her lawyer also received sizable cash gifts, and they stood to reap substantial fees as executors of her estate under the challenged will.

Clark’s relatives had said hospital executives, medical professionals and Clark’s lawyer and accountant took advantage of their access to the heiress to manipulate their way into her millions of dollars.

The beneficiaries have said Clark was simply a generous woman who wanted to help those who helped her.

All parties in the lawsuit would have to sign off on the proposed settlement to avoid trial, and the agreement would have to be approved by a Surrogate’s Court judge; that could happen this week, one lawyer said.

Clark, born in 1906, was raised in Paris, in Santa Barbara, Calif., and in a mansion on Fifth Avenue; she graduated from Miss Spence’s school, now the Spence School.

After being treated with plastic surgery for her severe skin cancer, hospital officials said in court papers, she refused to go return to her grand apartment on Fifth Avenue.

She lived in her hospital room, played with dolls, from Barbies to French porcelain baby dolls, and watched cartoons, one of her favorites being “The Smurfs.”

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