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Gay man, 85, who has lived in a $7M New York brownstone for 55 years is in danger of being left home

Published: October 24, 2016

Publication: Daily Mail

By Kiri Blakely

  1. Tom Doyle had lived with his partner, Bill Cornwell, in the beautiful Manhattan brownstone for 55 years

  2. Cornwell died in 2014 at the age of 88 and left behind a will declaring Doyle his sole beneficiary

  3. The will was declared invalid because there was only one witness 

  4. Nieces and nephews of Cornwell are now ‘drooling’ over the building and now it is under contract for $7million

  5. Doyle is suing to declare himself rightful owner of the building

An 85-year-old man may end up homeless because his late partner’s nieces and nephews are intent on getting their hands on the $7million New York City brownstone he’s called home for five decades.

Tom Doyle lived with his partner William Cornwell in the three-story, four-unit home in Manhattan’s West Village, for 55 years.

Gay marriage was illegal throughout most of their relationship, so they never got to tie the knot.

Over the decades, the property has become considerably more valuable, but is now at the center of contentious lawsuit, according to The New York Times.

Doyle is in a tense legal battle with the nieces and nephews of Cornwell, who died in June 2014 at age 88.

Tom Doyle, 85, above, has lived in his late partner’s brownstone in the West Village for 55 years – but he’s in danger of being kicked out because of what he claims is a legal mistake.

The three-story, four-unit red brick brownstone in historic West Village is worth $7million and nieces and nephews want to sell it out from under the man who has lived there for 55 years, Tom Doyle

Cornwell had a will that stipulated that the building and everything in it should go to his partner Doyle.

However, the will was declared invalid after it was discovered there was only one witness signature, not two.

Doyle said it was just a mistake, perhaps because the will was made while they were both in their mid-70s.

Without a valid will, an estate goes to the next of kin, which in this case would be some nieces and nephews of Cornwell.

They could have chosen to ignore this and sign the property over to their uncle’s long-term partner, but only one niece, Shelia McNichols, did.

The rest of the relatives ‘began to drool over the building,’ wrote Doyle’s lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, in the West View News.

Doyle shows the wedding rings the pair bought in lieu of getting legally married – a big mistake.

Bill Cornwell left his Horatio Street brownstone to his partner, Tom Doyle, but the will was later declared invalid on a small technicality.

Tom Doyle, an artist and local activist, is fighting for his right as sole owner of the building he and his partner lived in 

One of Cornwell’s nieces, Carole DeMaio, told The Times that she simply doesn’t believe her uncle even wanted his partner to have the building – and questions whether they were even romantically-involved.

‘He had 50 years to put Tom’s name on any of these papers. The will was never a valid will,’ she said, then put forth the notion that the pair were only ‘friends’ or ‘great companions.’

Doyle says the pair couldn’t get married for the majority of their relationship, and by the time same sex marriage was legal, they were both in their 80s and had health problems and it was difficult for them to make the two trips to City Hall to make it legal, one for the license and one for the ceremony. So they just sent away for rings.

‘And after a lifetime together, marriage doesn’t mean that much,’ he said.

Bill Cornwell, above, made a life in the West Village with his partner, Tom Doyle, who is now in danger of losing their home 

Only, it would have meant a great deal. If the pair had been married, all of Cornwell’s assets would have automatically been transferred to Doyle.

The relatives thought they were Doyle a favor by allowing him to continue to live in the building for five years – given that he is 85, they figure that is more than enough time. And they also promised him $250,000 from the sale, a small percentage of the $7million it was worth.

But Doyle has sued them in Surrogate’s Court with the goal of establishing his relationship as a common law marriage – and therefore himself as the rightful owner of the brownstone.

‘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,’ he told the newspaper. ‘As long as I am here, I have all the familiar surroundings. It’s almost as if Bill is still here.’

The lawyer for the relatives, Peter Gray, presumes to be bewildered as to why Doyle is kicking up a fuss.

‘…[The relatives] saw dollar signs, a couple million dollars each, and they are not going to necessarily give that up. It’s not like they are leaving him on the street,’ he said.

In fact, he feels their generosity will be sorely tested with the lawsuit.

‘I don’t know if the nieces and nephews will still feel so benevolent after they’re sued,’ he added.

For his part, Doyle just wants to live at his home for his remaining years. ‘It’s as if I’ve been deserted. I don’t hate them, but they are fighting over what is legally mine and Bill’s,’ he told the outlet.

Doyle’s lawyer, Schwartz, sees the fight over the brownstone as deeper than who gets a building.

‘It is a claim born of love and the cruel refusal of New York to recognize gay marriage for so many years,’ he said.

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