07/13/2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
A Manhattan judge has paved the way for the parents of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wife and sister-in-law to settle their wrongful death claim against his estate as a result of their fatal July 16, 1999, plane crash. Ann Freeman, 61, mother of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, who was 33 when she died, and Lauren Bessette, who was 34, notified the court a week ago that she and her ex-husband, William Bessette, 63, had decided to accept a settlement offer from the Kennedy estate. (A lawyer for Freeman, however, denied published and televised reports on Thursday that a $15 million settlement already had been reached.) The Bessette sisters and Kennedy, then 38, died when a plane Kennedy was piloting crashed off Martha's Vineyard. On Monday, Surrogate Renee Roth signed a decree lifting a legal bar that had blocked Freeman from settling the case because she was the administrator of her daughters' estates. JFK Jr.'s estate has been estimated to be $50 million. "Due to public scrutiny afforded in this case, and the anguish resulting from this tragedy," Freeman said in her legal papers, "the parties have sought to maintain as much privacy in the settlement of this action as possible."