Arthur Kramer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Arthur Kramer (January 10, 1927 − January 26, 2008) was the founding partner of influential law firm Kramer Levin. Kramer retired from the firm in 1996. He was found alone by a ski patrol in Sun Valley, Idaho on January 13, 2008. He ultimately died from a stroke on January 26 in New York City. He was 81 when he died, having lived in Stamford, Connecticut.[1]


Kramer's relationship with his brother, playwright Larry Kramer, moved into the public sphere with Larry's 1984 play, The Normal Heart. In the play, Larry portrays Arthur ("Ben Weeks") as more concerned with building his $2 million house in Connecticut than in helping his brother's cause. Humorist Calvin Trillin, a friend of both Larry and Arthur, once called The Normal Heart "the play about the building of [Arthur's] house." Anemona Hartocollis observed in the New York Times that "their story came to define an era for hundreds of thousands of theatergoers."[2] Arthur, who had been his younger brother's protector against the parents they both disliked, couldn't find it in his heart to reject Larry, but also couldn't accept his homosexuality. This caused years of arguing and stretches of silence between the siblings. In the 1980s, Larry wanted Arthur's firm to represent the fledgling Gay Men's Health Crisis, a nonprofit Larry organized. Arthur said he had to clear it with his firm's intake committee. Larry saw this as a cop-out — rightly, as Arthur said later.[3] Larry called for a gay boycott of MCI, a prominent Kramer Levin client, which Arthur saw as a personal affront. In 1992, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, an anti-gay rights referendum, and Arthur refused to cancel a ski trip to Aspen. [2]

Throughout their disagreements, they still stayed close, remaining each other's touchstones. Larry writes of their relationship in The Normal Heart: "The brothers love each other a great deal; [Arthur's] approval is essential to [Larry]."[4]

In 2001, Arthur gave Yale a $1 million grant to establish the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, a program focusing on gay history.[5]

Kramer Life Insurance Litigation[edit]

After reviewing a series of life insurance strategies over a period of two years, Arthur Kramer applied for seven insurance policies in mid-2005 from three different insurance companies with a total face amount of $56.2 million. He created two insurance trusts to own these policies and designated his adult children Andrew Kramer, Rebecca Kramer and Liza Kramer as the trust beneficiaries. Shortly after the policies were issued and as a way to provide additional support and gifts to his children during his lifetime, he directed his children to sell their beneficial interests in the trusts to outside life settlement investors that had indicated an interest in owning these policies for an immediate lump sum payment of $660,000. In connection with receiving the $660,000, Arthur and his children then executed a series of documents with outside investors stating that the sale of the policies was in the best interest of their family and that they had sufficient time to analyze the strategy of selling their policy rights to third parties. The sale occurred before Arthur paid the first premium on any of the policies.[6]

Shortly following Arthur's death in early 2008, his wife Alice Kramer, as executor of his estate, retained the New York City law firm of Friedman and Wittenstein to file a lawsuit in New York federal court that she, rather than the investors, who purchased the trusts interests from Kramer's children, was entitled to the $56.2 million of life insurance proceeds. She claimed that Arthur's action in taking out the policies with an intent to have them resold to investors violated New York State insurable interest law and thus the sale by her children should be declared void and unenforceable.[7]

After over two years of contentious litigation, the Court of Appeals of New York held against Alice Kramer and ruled New York insurable law permitted her husband and children to sell his policies immediately after issuance to anybody they wished provided they acted without coercion and were not subject to any nefarious influence.[8] During oral argument in front of a seven-judge panel, Alice Kramer's counsel Andrew Wittenstein argued that the estate's claim to the $56.2 million of insurance proceeds would not result in a windfall to the family but rather would send a message to insurance policy investors not to enter into these type of transactions. The Kramer decision was hailed throughout the country as a victory for the life settlement industry and as a blow to overreaching families wishing to undo the insurance planning of their deceased husband and father.[9]


  1. ^ Arthur B. Kramer, Playwright’s Brother, Dies at 81, Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times, February 2008.
  2. ^ a b Gay Brother, Straight Brother: It Could Be a Play, Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times, June 25, 2006.
  3. ^ Arenson, Karen W (1997-07-09), "Playwright Is Denied A Final Act; Writing Own Script, Yale Refuses Kramer's Millions for Gay Studies", The New York Times, retrieved 2007-09-23 
  4. ^ Kramer, Larry (2000), The Normal Heart, Grove Press, p. 31 
  5. ^ Branch, Mark Alden (April 2003), "Back in the Fold", Yale Alumni Magazine, retrieved 2007-04-21 
  6. ^ Kramer v. Phoenix Life Insurance Company, 15 N.Y. 3rd 829 (2010)
  7. ^ Id.
  8. ^ Id.
  9. ^ Ruling Gives Life to Death-Bet Insurance, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, 2010