April 12, 2012

Settlement Finally Reached in Brooke Astor Case—Reminder of Estate Planning Concerns

by Levin & Perconti

One of the most high-profile recent cases involving elder financial abuse and exploitation seems to be finally reaching a resolution. Our Chicago elder abuse attorneys know that the story offers some helpful tips and reminders about the need of local families to be vigilant about the care seniors receive. This is particularly true for those who face certain cognition issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

New York socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor was one hundred and five years old when she died in 2007. The end of her life was unfortunately tarred with scandal, as it involved charges of elder abuse, senior financial exploitation, fraud, and deceit by her own family members. Ms. Astor had only one son, Marshall, who helped manage most of her affairs near the end of her life. Marshall has a power of attorney and was alleged to have used it to plunder some of her fortune.

According to a recent Reuters story on the resolution, Marshall was actually convicted in 2009 of various felony charges for his dealing with his mother’s estate. The convictions stem from his sale of Ms. Astor’s property along with apparent forgeries of her signature on her will. Ms. Astor had three versions of the will. In previous versions, Ms. Astor made clear that she wanted to give much of her estate to charity. However, in the third and final version she apparently left everything to Marshall. Of course, this raised serious suspicions about Marshall’s role in having the third will drafted and signed.

Besides the blatant conflict of interest, another concern was Ms. Astor’s mental state at the time that the third will was signed. When a senior is suffering from cognition problems, they often may not be able to sign legal documents such as a will. The mental state of the senior is also a factor when challenging a will for undue influence.

As a result of all of these complications the ultimate resolution of Ms. Astor’s estate dragged on for nearly five years. However, it finally appears to be settled. The settlement was reached between Marshall (who remains free pending appeal of his criminal convictions) and various other interested parties (including those representing local charities). The settlement essentially reverts back to the wishes Ms. Astor outlined in her original will. Marshall will receive only a fourth of what he was originally slated to get, down to $14.5 million. Local charities will also receive various awards, including $20 million to a local art museum, $15 million for the public library, and $30 million for a new education fund.

Each Illinois elder abuse lawyer at our firm appreciates that will contests and estate planning feuds are common among families. Unfortunately, concerns about an inheritance are often at the root of abuse and mistreatment of seniors by their very family members. It is heartbreaking that so much of this still goes on. As always, to prevent this mistreatment and ensure a senior’s wishes are fully respected, it is important to have outside, neutral, third-parties help out with these affairs.


See Our Related Blog Posts:

Editorial Lambasts Washington for Ignoring Elder Abuse

Elder Financial Abuse Reaching Crisis Levels, Say Researchers