In mid-2007, her spending was reduced by another 40 percent, she says. That November, when the sons put the duplex on the market for $50 million, New York City’s second most expensive listing, her attorneys asked in separate letters for the apartment to be de-listed. It wasn’t.
Still, settlement negotiations began. By Dec. 14, she and the sons had signed a term sheet. The princess would be given the Pierre duplex, an $85 million trust, $15 million in cash and $10 million more at his death, among other things. In exchange, she didn’t just agree to deliver her key to 733 Park and to refrain from litigation, but to see Lionel for only four meals and one outing per week, all chaperoned, and none at the Pierre. The princess would be contacted after a life-threatening event. She would be involved in planning for his memorial service, but not his burial.
What about Mr. Pincus’ request that she be helped and loved? The sons now believe the two letters had been written by the princess: She tore up her first drafts into tiny pieces, their court papers say. Then she emptied the trash herself. (One of Mr. Pincus’ attorneys has said, though, that the letters were similar to one Mr. Pincus had asked the lawyer to write.)
She filed a motion to enforce the settlement, and to stop the sons from dealing off the duplex, but it was dismissed in summer 2008 on jurisdictional grounds. This time around, the sons’ August suit wants the princess stopped from interfering with the duplex’s sale. And the proceeds, the suit says, goes to the Pincus Family Fund—the philanthropic trust they control.
The trouble is that Mr. Pincus’ estate plan seems to plainly give the sprawl to the princess. Until recently, even the sons’ own attorneys were saying in court papers that she gets the money when the duplex is sold. In August 2008, in fact, one of Mr. Pincus’ trustees wrote that a sale was O.K. precisely because she was obviously left with the proceeds.
But because a sentence in the estate plan defines his duplex as the Pierre realty he owns at his death, the sons now say that she gets nothing if he’s still alive.
Like all good tragedies, it only gets more complicated from there. The suit also says that she cajoled juicy changes to the estate plan while Mr. Pincus ailed. “They didn’t have a problem with Firyal until they found out she was ripping off their dad,” Mr. Zabel said. If that reminds you of Anthony Marshall and his late mother, it’s because it’s supposed to: “Oh, choreographed like Nijinsky, my friend,” the source close to the princess said.
But! If the sons drive hard at the Astor angle, they may be in trouble: In the most recently-revised estate plan, they were suddenly provided with an option to buy their father’s Ram Island, off Southampton, for the relatively piddling price of $7.5 million. They had never before been given a chance to own the private isle outright.
If the princess was up to no good, you might say, then they were, too.
“WE PLAY THIS middle-class card that we only play when it’s convenient, and say she’s a money grubber,” Mr. Columbia, the social diarist, said. “That’s what everybody’s after! The sons, the lawyers, the PR people, everybody.”
But if a gigantic apartment, even if its asking price is down from $50 million to $35 million, can be sold for charity or kept for a princess, aren’t the moral implications clear? “What did Lionel want,” one of her lawyers, Les Fagan, said. “If he wanted her to have this money, then nothing else matters. It was his to give away. If he wanted her to have it, she should have it.”
What Mr. Pincus wanted will be up for discussion over the next few months. “One night at dinner at Swifty’s, after he could no longer talk, she asked him, ‘Do you love me?’” Mr. Columbia said. “And he nodded and nodded. And she said, ‘How much?’ And he opened his arms as wide as he could. And Lionel is not some guy who could be tricked by a hooker.”
More from Max Abelson: