Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Astors: Son Removed as Guardian of Mother

In an article entitled "Astor's Son Stripped of Guardianship", published by The Associated Press on October 13, 2006, found online here, it was reported that Brooke Astor's son has been permanently removed as guardian of his mother's guardianship estate after some litigation.

Anthony Marshall, 82, accepted permanent removal as the guardian of his mother, Brooke Astor, 104, in the settlement announced in a New York court on Friday, October 13, 2006. This case received widespread publicity since last July, when allegations of abuse or neglect of Mrs. Astor first surfaced publicly, as made by her grandson, Philip Marshall, 54.

In late July, the grandson's allegations were characterized as "an accusation of deliberate abuse" of Mrs. Astor by the Guardian. Her needs were discussed in affidavits filed by three well-known friends of Mrs. Astor -- Annette de la Renta, Henry Kissinger, and David Rockefeller -- affirming her need for the best treatment and lifestyle available; but no comment was made by them about Philip's allegations.

In an article published by the
New York Sun on July 28, 2006, entitled "Astor's Son: Neglect Claims ‘Untrue'", it was reported that Anthony denied the allegations: "I am shocked and deeply hurt by the allegations against me, which are completely untrue." He denied allegations of abuse, and also denied that he improperly took anything from his mother or made any changes in her will or her financial affairs against her wishes. Marshall said he was responsible for his mother's estate growing from about $19 million in the early 1980s to about $82 million.

New York Times reported in an article entitled "A Former Astor Aide Tells How Spending Habits Changed", by Serge F. Kovaleski & Mike McIntire, published August 1, 2006, found online here, about changes in the expenditures for the benefit of Mrs. Astor.

[S]tarting in 2003, Mrs. Astor’s son, Anthony D. Marshall, asked her and another office worker to process checks for some very different purposes. These checks, drawn on Mrs. Astor’s personal accounts, totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars and were used to invest in theater productions in which Mr. Marshall and his wife, Charlene, were involved....
A Manhattan judge initially ruled that temporary personal guardianship over Mrs. Astor be given to Mrs. de la Renta until a hearing on August 8th. The New York Sun reviewed the allegations & issues in a subsequent article dated July 31, 2006, entitled "Melodrama Over Mrs. Astor Enters a Second, Bitter Act", found here; and then reported on August 1, 2006, in an article entitled "Mike Wallace Takes Son's Side In the Astor Saga", found here, that "[f]amed reporter Mike Wallace has picked sides in the guardianship dispute over philanthropist Brooke Astor.
Mr. Wallace wrote: "It's always been clear to me that Anthony is a devoted son, adores his mother and has given her all the attention, concern and love that a son could offer." He continues: "In light of what I've seen, I am perplexed by the attacks leveled against Anthony. I believe they are completely undeserved. Any parent would be thankful to have a son like Anthony."
In a filing made on Aug. 24th, JPMorgan Chase sought standing in the guardianship case to permit extensive legal discovery about the past handling of Brooke Astor's guardianship by her son, Anthony. That institution requested to obtain documents under subpoena for review, and to depose witnesses regarding the administration of the guardianship.

Such investigation appeared warranted when the
New York Times reported in an article, entitled "Mrs. Astor’s Son Is Accused of Mishandling Millions", dated September 7, 2006, found online here, about the bank's conclusions and allegations:
The evidence developed as of now supports the conclusion that transfers of Mrs. Astor’s assets were made not for her benefit, but for the benefit of Anthony Marshall or his wife, or for the benefit of entities he owned or controlled. Some of these transactions, at least on their face, cannot be explained except as an exercise in impropriety.” * * *

“We seek to identify any assets of Brooke Astor that by virtue of improper transfers are no longer in her possession, custody or control. We also seek the power to commence

proceedings, if appropriate, for the return of such assets.”
In the settlement announced in court, it was reported that the agreement allows Astor's court-appointed guardians, Annette de la Renta, and JPMorgan Chase, to remain in place, instead of Anthony Marshall.

New York State Supreme Court Justice John Stackhouse said he would not hold a guardianship hearing because Astor would not be able to "participate fully in it." "I find by clear and convincing evidence that Brooke Astor is in need of guardians for her property and her persons," said Stackhouse.

A confirming news report about these matters, as published by the Boston Globe, dated October 13, 2006, entitled "Heiress Astor's Son Removed as Guardian", can be found online here .

UPDATE: 10/20/06:

On September 25th, the presiding judge,
Justice John E. H. Stackhouse, had ordered a law firm that has represented Brooke Astor to produce the originals of her last will and testament and of other estate planning documents so that they could be examined by handwriting experts.

On October 20, 2006, the International Herald Tribune published an Associated Press article entitled "Handwriting expert: Astor signature on amended will is not from her", found here, reporting that a handwriting expert from Berwyn, PA, concluded that the signature on Brooke Astor's most recent Last Will, executed when she was 101, was not reliable:
Brooke Astor's signature on her amended will calling for the sale of her real estate assets could not have been written by her due to her deteriorating health, a handwriting expert hired by the philanthropist court-appointed lawyer has concluded.

Gus Lesnevich, a forensic handwriting examiner, said the signature — Brooke Russell Astor — on the will, amended on March 3, 2004, did not match her signatures over the last 14 years, The New York Times reported Friday. Lesnevich said in a report concluded this week that a comparison of the amended will signature and known signatures of Astor "contain elements of dissimilar letter formations" and dissimilar "execution."
UPDATE: 10/21/06:

On October 21, 2006, the
New York Post published an article entitled "
Astor Will a '$HAM' - Forgery Eyed", found online here, which reported that the alleged questioned signature on Brooke Astor's most recent Last Will was under investigation for criminal charges of forgery:
The bitter battle over Brooke Astor and her millions is not only a shame, it could also be a crime.

Prosecutors are looking into the infamous guardianship case amid allegations the signature on the final amendment to Astor's will was forged, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said yesterday. * * *

"We are going to take a look at information provided to us by [Astor's] court-appointed lawyer to see if any of this rises to the level of criminality," spokeswoman Barbara Thompson said.

UPDATE: 12/12/06:

On December 12, 2006, the New York Times published an article entitled "Cleaned or Not? Mrs. Astor' s Sofa Isn't Telling", by Serge F. Kovaleski, about the continuing Astor case, asking the question: "Was it a whodunit or a ruse from the start?":

At the center of a legal dispute over Brooke Astor's care and finances were allegations that she had been forced to sleep on a urine-soiled couch in the television room of her Park Avenue duplex during the winter because her bedroom was too cold.

But when lawyers for the parties in the case first inspected the apartment in early August, they found that the couch and just about everything else in Mrs. Astor's home appeared to be well kept and clean. They even smelled the couch to make sure that Mrs. Astor's two dogs, Boysie and Girlsie, had not soiled it.

Had someone scrubbed the couch, thus destroying evidence, or had it never been sodden in the first place?

In the long article, the Court's current review position is mentioned: "Last week, Justice Stackhouse said the elder abuse claims had not been substantiated."

Now has this case taken a turn from liability of the guardian, to libel of the guardian?

Update: 06/19/07:

A book was published about the life of Mrs. Astor. See: Review of As Mrs. Astor Grows Older, by Amanda Gordon, published in The New York Sun on June 18, 2007:

During the court contest last year about the guardianship of Brooke Astor, an unsettling, though charitable, thought loomed over the proceedings: In her diminished mental and physical state, with friends removing her from the care of her son, Mrs. Astor, 104 at the time, would be better off dead.

Biographers can't control such things, but Mrs. Astor, now 105, is most certainly better off for the biography that Frances Kiernan has written about her, "The Last Mrs. Astor" (Norton, 256 pages, $24.95).

The book is an admiring account of Mrs. Astor's life, showing how her upbringing, three marriages, leisure pursuits, and work as a writer and editor prepared her for her greatest act: 30 years of distributing her late husband's wealth to hundreds of New York nonprofit organizations. * * *