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Lesbian Model's $25M Estate in Limbo Because She Could Never Marry Her Partner

Gigi Carrier

Fashion model Gigi Carrier and Shirley Ione Cowell were in a long-term romance decades before same-sex marriage was legalized.


Gigi Carrier Cowell (center) was adopted by her lover, Shirley Cowell (white blazer) | Photo via Facebook/Sam Carrier

Get ready for a real headscratcher in this unusual and complicated case involving two deceased, wealthy lesbians.

Shirley Ione Cowell, a wealthy socialite, and fashion model Gigi Carrier were in a committed relationship for nearly 40 years but were never ever able to get legally married in the United States. In 1971, Cowell, who was 57 at the time, legally adopted Carrier, then 41, as her daughter. It was a somewhat common, yet unfortunate, practice at the time, a way to get around the legality of leaving one's (see: Bayard Rustin and his partner Walter Naegle).

Cowell died in 1997, and she left millions to Carrier. Later, when Carrier died in 2009 at 71, her adoption led to a new, and unexpected legal mess since she didn't leave a will. Her biological brother Leonard Carrier, thought he was set to inherit her fortune as her closest next of kin, but he's technically not her brother due to the adoption.

According to DNAInfo, the money is now in a legal limbo and may be transferred to New York State's comptroller's office where it will remain until someone makes a case for it.

"The adoption in this case occurred in the context of a mature, long-time, same-sex relationship," Leonard Carrier's lawyer, Tom Bonner, wrote in a filing in surrogate's court in December 2014.

But that's not the end of it. It's even more complicated because Leonard Carrier died in June 2014, and now his wife, Claire, and their two children are continuing the fight for the money since she claims they had a close relationship:

"Claire recalled attending sing-a-longs at Gigi and Cowell's home with famous friends like jazz chanteuse Lena Horne, legendary Broadway producer George Abbott and Met Opera soprano Eileen Farrell showing up to belt out a tune."

Who knows what will happen to the money. Moral of the story? Make a legal, binding will.

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