Battle erupts over estate of wealthy recluse who froze to death inside his Upper East Side mansion
A battle has erupted over the estate of a reclusive Upper East Side man who froze to death inside his multimillion-dollar townhouse, the Daily News has learned.
The son of Peter Knoll has filed court papers alleging that his father was duped into leaving the bulk of his estate to a Vermont boarding school he attended in his teens.
Aaron Knoll claims his reclusive father’s financial adviser, as well as representatives of The Putney School, took advantage of the man when he was deteriorating physically and mentally.
“After having spoken with many of his friends, colleagues and family, everyone was in shock that he left virtually his entire estate to the school because it was contrary to conversations they had personally had with him,” Aaron Knoll told The News in an email.
“They appear to have capitalized on my father’s frail physical and mental state in literally the last months of his life.”
Knoll was found dead inside his five-story E. 78th St. mansion on Jan. 8. The city medical examiner ruled he succumbed to hypothermia.
Knoll was suffering from melanoma and other serious medical conditions at the time.
Con Edison was aware that Knoll had been living without gas since 2014 – but that information was never communicated to a city agency or nonprofit organization equipped to check on the 75-year-old son of a furniture magnate.
A News story about the case triggered an investigation by the state agency that regulates public utilities.
In his 2017 will, Knoll designated First Republic Bank to be the executor of his estate.
He left $50,000 each to his three children, and $100,000 to his grandchildren. He also left gifts ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 to a handful of friends and acquaintances.
But The Putney School was the big winner.
The progressive boarding school was slated to receive the rest of the proceeds from the sale of Knoll’s estimated $10 million townhouse, located steps from Central Park and just around the corner from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mansion.
Knoll attended Putney, in southern Vermont, as a member of the class of 1960.
“Of all the schools he went to, the Putney was his favorite,” said Bill McKnight, Knoll’s financial adviser. “He had a great time there, and it was maybe his strongest education.”
McKnight, who was not a beneficiary of the will, said he couldn’t comment on the allegations from Knoll’s son.
“My tongue and jaw are locked by rules and regulations,” he said.
Lawyers for First Republic Bank and The Putney School also declined comment.
But Putney’s development director previously told The News that Knoll had reached out roughly five years ago expressing an interest in leaving a gift to his alma mater.
“I was surprised that Putney was as much a beneficiary of his plans,” Hugh Montgomery said.