Will Bill Cunningham’s Dual Wills Trigger an Estate Battle?

The fashion photographer's estate is reportedly worth $4 million.

Bill Cunningham looking at negatives at his local film processing store in midtown. Courtesy CreditFirst Thought Films/Zeitgeist Films.

New York and the worlds of fashion and photography lost a legend in June, when acclaimed fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died at age 87. Settling his $4 million estate could be a complicated process, as Cunningham left behind not one but two wills.

The rights to Cunningham’s photos, shot over a lifetime, are worth $1 million, based on a filing at New York Surrogate’s Court, as reported by Page Six at the New York Post. The other $3 million is in bank accounts and insurance policies. Despite his apparent wealth, the photographer led an austere lifestyle, with a bare-bones apartment and wardrobe, and famously traveled around the city by bicycle.

It was the Post that discovered Cunningham’s dual wills, which were drawn up in 1993 and 2010.

A clerk told the paper that the earlier version was filed at the Surrogate’s Court  for “safekeeping.” It would have divided Cunningham’s fortune among his now-deceased siblings and his good friend Toni “Suzette” Cimino, a former regular in Cunningham’s work who often dined with him.

For reasons unknown, the new will excludes the 90-year-old Cimino, leaving the rights to all of Cunningham’s photos and negatives to his niece, Patricia Simonson. The will also splits $500,000 evenly between Simonson and the photographer’s four nephews.

Also among the beneficiaries is Louise Doktor, whom the Post describes as “an eccentric Midtown executive secretary” and whom Cunningham photographed regularly. She stands to inherit $50,000, as well as all of his personal possessions and insurance policies.

The 2010 document names Simonson and attorney Richard S. Peskin as executors of Cunningham’s estate.

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