The estate of Brooke Astor, the renowned philanthropist who died at age 105, was recently settled. It had been entangled in litigation for many years involving her son, Anthony Marshall, and his estate planning attorney, Francis X. Morrissey. Marshall and Morrissey convinced Astor, after she had been diagnosed with dementia, to execute a number of codicils to her Will, giving control of her $200 million estate to Marshall. Marshall intended to divert the funds that were intended to go to various charities after his death to his younger wife, who Astor reportedly detested.
Marshall’s son, Philip, filed for guardianship of his grandmother (known as a conservatorship in California), and this ultimately led to uncovering the financial elder abuse being perpetrated by Marshall and Morrissey. Marshall and Morrissey were found guilty in a criminal trial of grand larceny, fraud and other related charges. Morrissey is currently serving out his sentence, but Marshall, age 87, remains free pending the appeal of his criminal conviction.
The criminal trial did not decide what was to happen to Astor’s wealth. The validity of the Wills and codicils was questionable, due to questions of Astor’s capacity and susceptibility to undue influence. Negotiations between Marshall, Astor’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, dozens of charities, and the New York Attorney General’s office have resulted in a settlement of years of battling in the Probate Court.
The settlement finds that Astor’s 2002 Will is valid, but not any of the documents that were signed after that date. Under the 2002 Will, Marshall would have received close to $70 million. The settlement provides that he is to receive $14.5 million, but he has over $11.6 million in outstanding judgments against him for legal fees. This means he will end up with less than $3 million. Shows you what greed can do to you.
Each of the grandchildren will receive $1 million and the great-grandchildren will each receive lesser amounts. The balance of the estate will go to the various charities that Astor intended to benefit. While they won’t have to wait until Marshall’s death, as originally provided under the Will, the estate has been substantially depleted by legal fees and the drop in real estate values since Astor’s death.
Riverside estate planning and elder law attorney Dennis Sandoval sees examples of elder abuse and undue influence on a more and more frequent basis. His office is handling several Will and trust contests, as well as contested conservatorships, in the San Bernardino Probate Court and Riverside Probate Court. Up until the death of Etta James in 2012, associate attorney Pamela Valencia was her court appointed attorney in the Etta James contested conservatorship matter in the Riverside Probate Court. If you believe someone is unduly influencing a senior, if you believe that a Will or trust is not valid or that a senior was the victim of elder abuse, call our Riverside law office at 951-888-1460 or visit our website to schedule a free consultation with one of our estate planning attorneys.
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