An elderly gay man might lose the home he shared with his partner for 55 years. Tom Doyle was bequeathed a West Village townhouse by his partner Bill Cornwell, but because they weren’t legally married and Cornwell’s will wasn’t properly witnessed, an army of nieces and nephews are battling him in court.
Doyle was left the building in Cornwell’s will when he died at 88, two years ago. They had lived there for over five decades, but were never married. It wasn’t legal until recently and by the time it was, both men were quite elderly and Cornwell was not well. They bought wedding rings, but apparently never got around to making it official.
On top of not being married, Cornwell mistakenly had only one person witness the signing of his will, not two, as New York law requires. So, the building legally falls to his next of kin, which is several nieces and nephews. One of them, Carole DeMaio, said to the Times that maybe Cornwell didn’t really want to leave the building to his partner. DeMaio said her uncle never took the necessary steps to make sure everything went to Mr. Doyle, including marrying him, because he didn’t want to.
“He had 50 years to put Tom’s name on any of these papers. The will was never a valid will.”
Ms. DeMaio says maybe they were just ‘friends’ or ‘great companions.’ She has proposed that they let him stay in the building for five more years and to give him $250,000 from its eventual sale. A lawyer for the family, Peter Gray, also questioned the point of Doyle’s lawsuit,
“given the likelihood that he has few remaining years.”
This building is on my block at 69 Horatio Street (my address is 92). I walked my dog past the building all the time and yesterday when I did Mr. Doyle was coming out of the building with a cane. He’s 85 now. I almost went to talk with him but a couple walked by with a dog, so I just kept going.
Cornwell was a neighborhood activist and the local papers have been writing about the situation since last spring. Arthur Z. Schwartz, ann attorney, wrote an editorial in the West Village News calling the nieces and nephews “greedy.” Schwartz is helping Doyle assert his legal claims in court, which include arguing that the couple were common-law married in Pennsylvania, where they sometimes vacationed.
“I have made Tom Doyle’s rightful claim to 69 Horatio Street. It is a claim born of love and the cruel refusal of New York to recognize gay marriage for so many years.”
The red brick building was built in 1905 and believe me, it’s worth a LOT. Townhouses like this on a beautiful block in the West Village are worth around $7 million or more, so those nieces and nephews are seeing dollar signs. This seems particularly cruel to do this to an elderly gay couple, but if they were straight, the relatives would still be trying to grab the money.
A terrible example of why legalizing same-sex marriage is such an important achievement for the gay community. I really hope this works out in Mr, Doyle’s favor, don’t you?