Today’s New York Times reports on an estate conflict between two sets of stepchildren in Suffolk County Surrogate’s Court on Long Island’s east end. Those of us who do contested estate work are used to seeing people at their very worst , but this story is sufficiently over the top to attract the attention of "The Gray Lady" (as the Times is sometimes known). After Monique Eastman’s first husband Richard Spreyregen died in 1959, she subsequently met and married Lee Eastman, a prominent entertainment lawyer whose wife Louise was killed in an air crash. While they lived happily together for nearly thirty years, the closeness they enjoyed was not shared by their respective children.
The case becomes more interesting in view of approximately forty million dollars in a fine art collection with a national reputation which was owned by the couple. One of Mr. Eastman’s daughters, the late Linda Eastman was married to Beatle Paul McCartney in1969 . All of the stepchildren appear to be both well-educated and well-heeled.
Now, the two sets of stepchildren are embroiled in litigation stemming from accusations that John Eastman, a trust attorney, took advantage of a marital trust which his late father established for his stepmother by manipulating her so that she failed to receive income and assets from the trust as her husband had intended. This alleged failure to provide assets for Monique Eastman, ultimately would have led to a diminution of her estate with (as her children allege) the lion’s share of the art collection going to the Eastman children as a direct result.
It is naive to think that with forty million or so dollars, the battling Eastman and Sprayregen stepchildren could find a way to settle their dispute. I don’t suppose anybody cares to take a page out of the philosophy of Rodney King –but it would be nice if stepchildren in this situation could get along. Of course it is we of the Estate Bar who profit by this refusal to compromise that we see so often in contested estate practice . One would therefore think that the best way to insure that we lawyers do not get all of your money is to settle your case!