An estate battle over a New York City apartment building illustrates that legalizing gay marriage did not fix all estate problems for the LGBT community and that wills need to be executed in strict accordance with the law to be valid.
For 55 years Bill Cornwell and Tom Doyle lived as a gay couple in a New York apartment building solely owned by Cornwell. The couple lived in one of the building's four apartments.
After gay marriage became legal in New York, the two thought about getting married. However, at their advanced age they did not want to make the trip to the courthouse. Cornwell drafted a will that left the apartment building to Doyle. Unfortunately, the will was only witnessed by one person and New York requires that two people witness a will for it to be valid.
As a result, when Cornwell passed away his nieces and nephews laid claim to the apartment building as his closest living relatives.
The New York Times reports on this saga in "A Brownstone and the Bitter Fight to Inherit It."
The nieces and nephews made plans to sell the building. They did include provisions in the sales agreement that Doyle was to be allowed to live in the apartment for five years at a rent of $10 per month and that he was to receive $250,000 from the sale.
That did not satisfy Doyle and he has sued the nieces and nephews.
He claims that he and Cornwell were common law married, but New York does not recognize common law marriages. His claim relies on having visited Pennsylvania with Cornwell to purchase a dog at a time when that state did recognize common law marriages.
The biggest lesson to be learned from this case is that it is important to use an estate planning attorney for assistance in drafting and executing your will. The battle over this estate could have been avoided entirely as the attorney would have known that the will required two witnesses to be valid in New York.
Reference: New York Times (Oct. 23, 2016) "A Brownstone and the Bitter Fight to Inherit It."
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