Wackiest Surrogate’s Court Cases That Have Made News Over the Years

Written by Megan Finnegan Bungeroth on . Posted in News West Side Spirit, West Side Spirit.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

by Megan Bungeroth

Most New Yorkers don’t think about the Surrogate’s Court until it makes major headlines, but when it does, the cases are memorable. Here are some of the most famous and bizarre cases in recent memory.

1992- Woody Allen and Mia Farrow go to Surrogate’s Court to settle the custody battle for their three adopted children and biological son, Satchel.

1994-The court deems the total value of the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts collection to be $400 million, an amount three times higher than the foundation had placed its collection at. The jump resulted in a huge fee awarded to executor Edward Hayes, but the state Appellate Court reversed the decision four years later.

2002-Tobacco heiress Doris Duke died in 1993 and had appointed her butler, Bernard Lafferty, as executor of her estate of over $1 billion. But in 1995, the court stripped Lafferty of his role on teh basis that he was spending millions on luxuries for himself while living lavishly and drunkenly in Duke’s mansion. The court appointed several executors that had been named in one of the Duke’s previous wills, and they formed teh Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. In 2002, the court returned $12.1 million in legal fees to the estate.

2004-When East Village performance artist Jack Smith died in 1989 of complications from AIDS, fellow artists maintained his archives and restored many of his films, safeguarding his artistic legacy. But in 2004, the court awarded the entire estate to Smith’s estranged sister, 70-year-old Texas housewife Mary Sue Slater, on the basis that she was the sole legal heir.

2008-Real estate mogul Leona Helmsley bequeathed $12 million to her dog, a Maltese named Trouble, in her will, while leaving nothing to two of her grandchildren. The court later knocjed down the pooch’s cut to $2 million, to be managed by his caretaker for expenses like security and grooming costs, redirected the rest to charity. Poor Trouble died in 2011 as the world’s wealthiest (and most envied) four-legged friend.

2012-The Westchester County Surrogate’s Court settled one of the most contentious and famous cases in recent memory this year when it finalized the distribution of Brooke Astor’s estate. Astor, who died in 2007 at age 105, was an extremely wealthy philanthropist and socialite, and her son Anthony Marshall was accused of gutting her fortune in her waning years, taking advantage of his ailing mother to get his hands on her millions. The court ultimately directed more than $100 million of the estate to charities, cultural institutions and education funds, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and the New York Public Library, and slashed the amount that Marshall was entitled to inherit.

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