Trusts and Estates Blog

Avoiding Elder Abuse—The Story of Brooke Astor

“All it takes for elder abuse to flourish is for family and friends to do nothing.”

Brooke Astor lived what some would believe to be a coveted life. The philanthropist and author was married three times, most notably to Vincent Astor, the last heir of the Astor family fortune. From that marriage, she inherited much in the way of wealth and assets. After Vincent died, she took control of the Astor Foundation and used the Astor wealth to donate to many needy causes. She was noted for her benevolence and lived by her life motto, “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.” Even after liquidating the Astor Foundation, she continued her benevolent giving, improving local libraries and community gardens.

As Astor grew older, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and soon began losing her mental abilities. Having established her son from her first marriage, Anthony Marshall, as her caretaker, she turned everything over to him and trusted him to manage her estate.

Marshall had other plans though, and he began selling important pieces of art and jewelry that Astor had planned to be donated once she passed on. Anthony convinced his mother that they were in need of funds (even though her estate was valued at $200 million), and often pocketed money from the sale of prized possessions.

Anthony even went as far as to dismiss beloved staff members (a butler and a lawyer who had been with Brooke for fifty years). He also shut down her country home where she had told friends she wanted to die. Even in small day-to-day details, Marshall cut costs—refusing to take Astor to doctors’ appointments, neglecting to give her medication, and making her do without things she could afford.

Family members became suspicious when one of Astor’s most treasured paintings, “Flags, Fifth Avenue” by artist Childe Hassam which was promised to be donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anthony Marshall’s son, Phillip Marshall, began paying close attention to the activities surrounding his grandmother’s estate. Staff at her apartment even told him of ways Anthony had been depriving Astor of time with friends among other things.

After observing these injustices and gathering evidence, Phillip approached a few wealthy friends of Astor’s and with their help, hired a law firm to investigate the reports of elder abuse. Brooke Astor passed away in 2007 at age 105, and in October 2009, Anthony Marshall (age 85) was convicted of fourteen charges including grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, scheming to defraud, falsifying business records, offering a false instrument for filing, and conspiracy.

While the Astor abuse gained national media attention because of the popularity of the Astor estate, cases of elder abuse happen every day. Parents leave children or loved ones in charge of their estate, trusting them to care for them as they grow older, yet sometimes those they love can turn out to be poor caretakers.

Phillip Marshall has learned the impact of elder care abuse, and is now a national speaker on the subject, seeking to raise awareness of the problem. As he says, “All it takes for elder abuse to flourish is for family and friends to do nothing.”

If you have an elderly friend or loved one living in care of someone, pay close attention to how the elderly person is being treated. If you see signs of elder abuse or suspect something might be wrong, get help. Contact a lawyer, law enforcement officer, or family member who can help. Don’t allow your loved one to suffer needlessly.

If you would like more information concerning this issue or other estate planning options, www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for personal wealth management solutions through wills and revocable trusts. Whether your estate planning goals are immediate or long-term, a California certified estate planning specialist will be able to counsel you on the best options available to you to meet your individual needs.

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