Brooke Astor | Fame, Fortune & Elder Financial Abuse
Before there was Kim Kardashian, Nicole Richie, and Paris Hilton, in the 1940’s the socialite celebrity who was famous for being famous was Brooke Astor. By the time she died in 2007 at the age of 105, she was best remembered for two things: First, she was a philanthropist of the first order who donated and raised money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Public Library and many other important institutions. Speaking of her philanthropy, Brooke once famously said: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.”
Second, and unfortunately for her legacy of good work, she is also remembered for being the victim of elder financial abuse.
Brooke had only one child in her life, a son named Anthony (aka Tony), who was born when she was 22. Unfortunately for her, Tony was to make her final years bitter, unpleasant and scandalous.
Brooke’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1930, and two years later she married a wealthy investment banker named Charles Marshall. It was a good match and Brooke’s son, Tony, took Marshall’s last name. She and Marshall were happily married for 20 years until he died, following which she married Vincent Astor, the primary heir to the Astor family fortune.
Even though the family and its wealth are now mostly gone, you probably know the Astors thanks to Brooke’s generous donations in the Astor name, and from the real estate legacy the family left in New York. Vincent Astor’s father was Jack Astor IV, a real estate mogul who built the Astoria Hotel in 1897, which was later to become known as the Waldorf-Astoria.
Jack Astor went down on the Titanic in 1912, leaving his entire fortune to his son Vincent. Vincent Astor died in 1959, leaving his entire fortune to his wife Brooke. Brooke then spent the next 48 years giving away most of that fortune.
You might think that if you were Tony Marshall, the only child of the last surviving heir to the Astor Family fortune, that you would be satisfied to live well and bide your time and wait to inherit an unimaginable sum of money. But Tony was a theatrical producer who needed lots of cash, and he was also married and divorced three times, which greatly reduced his personal net worth.
Tony started managing his mother’s finances in the 1970’s, and as Brooke became increasingly incapacitated due to dementia, Tony began paying himself an annual salary of $1 Million, while at the same time taking more and more assets and money from Brooke.
As his mother’s capacity further diminished, Tony’s crimes became more blatant. He convinced her that she was running out of money and that she needed to sell some of her properties. He also transferred money to his personal accounts and took priceless artworks from her Park Ave apartment, so he could sell them.
Tony’s need for cash escalated, while at the same time he allegedly began to neglect Brooke’s medical care. In 2006, Tony Marshall’s son, Philip Marshall, then a university professor, was ironically the one who blew the whistle on his father’s fraudulent and abusive scheme. Philip filed a petition in State Supreme Court which accused his father of neglecting his grandmother’s care by cutting her medications, nurses and doctor visits.
When she died in 2007, Brooke’s estate was worth an estimated $192 million, including a trust. Most of her assets and estate went to charity. $30 million went to create the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education, and millions more went to Prospect Park and Central Park. Tony received $14.5 million, an amount that was cut in half because of the elder financial abuse lawsuit filed against him.
In the end, Tony Marshall was indicted on 16 counts, including conspiracy, grand larceny and possession of stolen property, while his lawyer and co-conspirator, was charged with 6 counts, including forgery and possession of a forged instrument. Both men were also accused of persuading Brooke to change her will, and to leave her remaining assets to her son instead of to charity as had been her intent. Tony was found guilty of 14 of the 16 charges, including first-degree grand larceny, and on December 21, 2009 he was sentenced to 1-3 years in New York State prison. His appeals ran out on June 21, 2013 when the 89-year-old Marshall reported to prison. His sentence lasted just 8 weeks when he was granted a medical parole. He died a year later.
Father and son never reconciled. Tony left his entire $14.5 million estate to his widow and her children, while disinheriting Philip.
According to the New York Post, Philip would have received $10 million from his grandmother had his father not tampered with her will. A court voided that will and instead Philip inherited just $1 million from his grandmother’s estate.
Even though it resulted in him losing a $9 million inheritance, Philip said he would do it all again: “Basically, we saved my grandmother and that was my goal. And if it was at the cost of anything I was ever to inherit, I just don’t care,” he said.
The sad case of Brooke Astor does, however, have a long-term happy ending. Philip did save his grandmother, who did start receiving proper medical attention in her final days, and Philip went on to create a new organization called Beyond Brooke, whose goal is to advance elder justice and fight elder abuse.
For more information, on that fine organization and its work, go to www.beyondbrooke.org.
I’m Mike Hackard from Hackard Law. We represent California beneficiaries in estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. If your inheritance rights have been violated and you want to share your story with us, call us at 916-313-3030.