On July 6, the upper left-hand corner of a beige envelope in Manhattan surrogate court, filed under the name of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, was labeled in ink "Compromise," marking the final chapter in an American tragedy.
The notation signaled that an agreement had been reached between the estate of John F. Kennedy Jr. and those of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and her sister Lauren Bessette concerning claims over the July 1999 plane crash off Martha's Vineyard that killed pilot Kennedy, 38, his wife, Carolyn, 33, and Lauren, 34. The settlement, confirmed by JFK Jr.'s cousin U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, came just 10 days before the end of the two years in which Ann Freeman, 51, mother of Carolyn and Lauren and executor of their estates, could have filed a wrongful death suit. (The Federal Aviation Agency determined a year after the accident that it was due to "pilot error"—failure to maintain control; therefore, Kennedy could have been held legally responsible.)
A source says that Freeman and William Bessette, 62, father of Carolyn and Lauren, who is divorced from Freeman, were not close to the Kennedys. Since the accident, says an insider, "[the families] aren't chatting, but they're not estranged."
Though available court papers don't state the amount, the settlement is believed to be several million dollars. While Kennedy's estate—at least $50 million—went to the children of his sister Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, 43, it is likely that USAIG, the insurer of JFK Jr.'s Piper Saratoga, will contribute to the settlement. Says Jim Kreindler, a New York City aviation tort attorney: "Don't assume the estate is paying a nickel." But no matter who pays or how much, Ann Freeman will not end her grieving. "She won't ever be the same," says a friend. "You don't get over something like this."
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