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Modern Families and Wills

Modern families have, well, modern problems, especially where wills are concerned. Consider this case, happening in New York right now.

originalBrownstones in the West Village section of New York City are worth a small fortune. Today, Fifty-five years ago they weren’t – and no one was exactly lined up to buy them.. That’s when Bill and Tom, both artists, bought a three story brownstone on Horatio Street. In a bow to the times, the deed was in Bill’s name only. They lived together in a one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor that opened out to a courtyard garden and rented out the other three apartments.

Partners for those fifty-five years, the two men were fixtures in the West Village, known and respected by everyone in the neighborhood as the area gentrified and views changed. Tom was considered family by Bill’s extended family of two nieces and two nephews. For them, despite the laws of the time, there was no question of the legitimacy of their ‘uncles’ relationship.’  By all accounts, they were one, big, happy family.

Until Bill died in 2014 at age 92. He had been unhealthy for some time, heart problems. Gay marriage was legalized in New York in 2011, the couple made some tentative plans to get married but the strain of traveling to City Hall seemed too much. Plus, they both felt that after fifty-five years together what was the point?

Bill died, then, as a single man. He had executed a will sometime in the early 2000’s and left everything to his partner for, again, fifty-five years. Including the brownstone. The brownstone bought in the mid-’60’s for, maybe, a little more than $100,000 is now worth $7 million.

Apparently Bill’s nieces and nephews were fine with this, after all they grew up with Bill and Tom’s relationship and were, in fact, a big part of it. Then one of them discovered a scrivener’s error in the will – there was only one witness, New York law requires two. Bill’s heirs had the will invalidated, they stand to inherit equal shares of the estate, they immediately put the brownstone up for sale, almost as quickly they received a $7 million offer.

One of the nieces assigned her share of the estate to Tom. The others now claim that Bill and Tom “were only friends”, “Bill never wanted anything to go to Tom”, and much more, all belying 55 years of family history.

Bill is suing the three heirs that he, until recently, called nieces and nephews himself. He is 88 and wants to live out his remaining days in his home. Meanwhile, the sale is pending.

There’s a lot going on here, if any of it strikes home with you, please give us a call.

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    About the author

    Erik J. Broel
    Founder & ceo

    Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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