Thursday, October 8, 2009

Astor's Son Convicted Of Stealing From Mother's $180 Million Estate When She Had Alzheimer's Disease

In a rare criminal case involving a will dispute, Anthony Marshall, the 85 year old son of Brooke Astor (legendary New York society matriarch) was convicted on Thursday, October 8 after a 5 month jury trial.

Mr. Marshall was found guilty of 14 of the 16 counts against him, including: (1) one first-degree grand larceny charge (the most serious he faced); (2) offering to file a false instrument, and (3) conspiracy. A second defendant in the case, Francis X. Morrissey Jr., a lawyer who did estate planning for Mrs. Astor, was convicted of forgery charges. Sentencing is set for December 8, 2009 in the New York court.

Jurors convicted Mr. Marshall him of giving himself an unauthorized raise of about $1 million for managing his mother’s finances. Prosecutors contended that Mrs. Astor’s Alzheimer’s was so advanced at age 101 when her will was amended that there was no way she could have consented to this raise and understood the other complex changes to her will and the financial decisions that benefited Mr. Marshall.

Mrs. Astor, whose fortune was estimated at more than $180 million when she died two years ago at 105, was well known for channeling large sums toward New York charities and cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Bronx Zoo.

Defense lawyers had argued that Mrs. Astor was lucid when she bequeathed money to her only child Mr. Marshall, and that he had legal power to give him gifts while she was alive. Mrs. Astor's last will, dated in 2002, left millions of dollars to her favorite charities. Changes to that document in 2003 and 2004 awarded Mr. Marshall all of his mother's property, instead of placing it in a trust as she had initially stipulated.

The jurors heard testimony from prominent friends of Mrs. Astor regarding her Alzheimer's and inability to recognize them. The witnesses included Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters and Annette de la Renta. The prosecution portrayed Mr. Marshall as driven by his wife, Charlene, to obtain more money and obtain control of the estate.

Today's New York Times article on this case can be found at:

Usually these types of allegations are handled in probate court. The civil case will now proceed now that the criminal case is concluded. One of the core issues in the civil case will be whether Mrs. Astor was mentally competent when she signed the 2002 will, which was amended in late 2003 and again in early 2004. Those later revisions gave her son more control over her estate, and in the process she reduced the amount of money she left to the New York universities, libraries, parks and museums she had spent much of her life supporting. There is an earlier version of the will which directed more money to charity.

Posted by Henry Moravec, III. Any questions or comments should be directed to: hm@moravecslaw.com or (626) 793-3210. The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/