The Ruling That Could Change Everything For Disabled People With Million-Dollar Trusts

A pissed-off judge, a $3 million inheritance, and a neglected autistic man

During World War II, she managed to get a job as a general's secretary. Afterward, she ran off to Hollywood with her younger sister Betty to become an actress. When that didn't work out, Marie moved to New York, got a nose job, and became a professional dancer and runway model. She lied about her age and stayed on the catwalk until she was 40, long after most models age out.

She fell in love with a wealthy Jewish businessman named Charles Holman. Marie never told her Catholic parents about the marriage. Even Betty Brooks, Awad's mother, didn't quite know what her sister's husband did, except that he did it well.

When Marie came back to Ohio for weddings and funerals, she looked as if she'd gotten lost on the way to a gallery opening. In family photos, she stood a head taller and several sizes slimmer than the other women, one foot pointed in front of the other as if posing for a photo shoot. She wore her platinum-blond hair in a poofy bun and layered on thick mascara. She always wore black.

Mark Holman, millionaire orphan
Courtesy Sharon Awad
Mark Holman, millionaire orphan
Judge Kristen Booth Glen picked a fight with the banks.
Judge Kristen Booth Glen picked a fight with the banks.

Soon after she married, Marie had a miscarriage, then discovered she couldn't bear children. Sorrow hung over the couple.

Marie found satisfaction in work, putting herself through secretarial school and working her way up to office manager in a prominent investment bank. Her boss took her under his wing, and she learned to invest when it was something women didn't do. She made her own fortune betting on stocks like Johnson & Johnson.

In the late 1980s, when Charles was dying, he told Marie that he didn't want her to be alone, that she should finally have the child she always wanted. Marie went to an adoption agency soon after he died. She told them she was 47, by then a rather wild claim. When they said no, Marie decided on an under-the-table adoption.

Faking her age again, she found a lawyer who would broker a deal: $15,000 plus hospital bills in exchange for a poor woman's newborn. In the end, the woman took the money and ran. Marie was heartbroken.

But she didn't give up. The lawyer found another poor couple burdened with drug addiction and too many children. This time she got a little boy, whom she named Charles. Marie was 66.

She raised the child in her rent- controlled Upper West Side apartment, decorated floor to ceiling in lavender. She could afford much better, but she was raised with frugality. She wouldn't replace a holey shag rug until she tripped on it.

A year later, Marie got a call from the lawyer. Charles's birth mother was pregnant again. Did Marie want a brother for her son?

Mark was a good-looking boy with olive skin, dark hair, and a big smile. He looked Greek or Italian, but he was born with an enlarged head. Marie knew he'd have challenges. She took him home when he was five days old.

Though a nanny changed and bathed him, Marie spent all of her free time with Mark, taking him to the park or doing exercises to improve his memory and communication skills. The boy was diagnosed with autism when he was seven. Doctors later discovered a seizure disorder, and that Mark was missing part of his brain. Marie took him to countless specialists and spent lavishly on treatment. Mark wouldn't learn to speak, but he pointed and made sounds to let Marie know he was hungry or wanted something. When she smiled, he smiled back. "I know he understands me," she would say.

When Mark was around nine, his mother sent him to an expensive special needs school. She fought to have the government pay the costs and won, according to Awad. When Mark traveled on the school bus alone, Marie gushed with pride.

She didn't like to think about old age and death. But when Marie was in her 70s, her sister convinced her to face facts. Mark was only seven. What would happen to him as an orphan?

In 1995, Marie went to a talk on estate planning at a Manhattan hotel. The speaker was Harvey Platt, an estate lawyer who had written several books on trusts. Then in his 60s, Platt co-chaired a trust for the New York State Association for Retarded Children, the nation's largest nonprofit supporting people with intellectual disabilities.

"The selection of the trustee can be in many instances the most difficult part of creating a trust," Platt wrote in Your Living Trust and Estate Plan, now in its fourth edition. "The trustee must not only be willing and able, but must be familiar with the beneficiary and his or her needs."

Marie approached Platt after the lecture. His face was framed by thick, oval glasses, and he had the manner of an old-fashioned family attorney. Platt agreed to help Marie create trusts for Mark and Charles. When she died, her sister would become Mark's guardian, with Platt as a backup.

Income from Mark's trust was to be spent on his "care, comfort, support and maintenance." Marie also authorized them to give money to "any facility he may be residing in and/or to any organization where he may be a client or a participant in any program(s)." And if Marie and Brooks both died, Platt and JP Morgan Chase would take over as trustees.

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