One Equal World

Family of Gay Man Who Died Attempt to Evict His Partner of 55 Years

Posted on: October 26, 2016

An eviction notice. There is a calculator and a set of keys sitting on top of the notice.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Bill Cornwell and Tom Doyle lived together in the West Village, NY for 55 years. That equates to more than half a century of committed life. They adopted a dog together and bought wedding rings after New York State ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2011. When Cornwell died, at 88, he left behind a will leaving the small apartment building he owned to his long-time partner. He thought he’d taken care of his love.

But a missing signature has ruined that. The will Cornwell left was only signed by one witness, and New York law requires two, so the building is going to Cornwall’s four nieces and nephews, who intend to sell the valued piece of property. It’s worth $7 million or more, due to its location. But to Doyle, it’s worth more. It’s the home he lived in and shared with his partner for all those years. Because of that, he has decided to contest the inheritance.

“I’m not so concerned about the money, I’m more concerned about a roof over my head for the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t have to be in a nursing home. As long as I am here, I have all the familiar surroundings. It’s almost as if Bill is still here,” said Mr. Doyle to the New York Times. His dispute with his partner’s family has gone to court.

One of the two nieces suggests that the two men were “just friends” and that the oversight of the signature was deliberate, that her uncle never wanted to leave the house to his partner. The two nephews have sought a compromise wherein they guarantee that Doyle can stay in the apartment for a token rent for the next five years while the building is sold around him. The other niece is on Doyle’s side, and sought to transfer her share of the inheritance to him.

The core of Doyle’s lawsuit is an attempt to prove that the law should regard him and Cornwell as having been married despite them never signing a marriage certificate, which would render him the natural heir. Arthur Schartz, Mr. Doyle’s lawyer, says there is legal precedent for the argument.

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