Sep 4, 2015

In the end, Brooke Astor's grandsons get nothing, money goes to hated daughter-in-law

If you're like most people, you have definite ideas about who should get your assets after you're gone. Meticulous estate planning is needed because so many situations can imperil your desires. For example, many of us will face protracted periods of incapacity when we can no longer manage our own assets, and may be vulnerable to exploitation. Our plans can also be affected by our loved ones' divorces, remarriages, and family rivalries.  

All of those factors came together with respect to the estate of New York socialite Brooke Astor, who I first told you about in 2012. The most recent chapter in the Astor estate saga unfolded just a few months ago. But before I update you, here's some background: Astor died in 2007 at the age of 105 after suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for many years. Her only son, Anthony Marshall, was her agent under her power of attorney. He allowed his mother to live in squalor and isolation during her years of incapacity. He also stole millions from her, buying gifts for himself such as a $920,000 yacht. He sold one of his mother's paintings, valued at $30-$40 million and promised to a museum, for a mere $10 million, taking a $2 million commission for himself. Ultimately Marshall was convicted of elder abuse, and when all was said and done, the court awarded him just $14.5 million of his mother's estate - a pittance compared to her overall wealth estimated at $200 million. The rest went to charity.

Interestingly, it was Marshall's own sons who blew the whistle on the elder abuse. Philip and Alex had a close relationship with their grandmother, so what happened earlier this year would surely have dismayed her: Marshall's will, filed in June following his 2014 death, disinherited her grandsons. Philip and Alex will not get see a penny of their grandmother's money. Instead, Marshall left "any such property which I received from my mother, Brooke Russell Astor, either by lifetime gift or inheritance" to his third wife, Charlene, a woman Astor was known to abhor and who she referred to as "that b---h." Anything left over when Charlene dies is to go to Charlene's children from her prior marriage - not to Marshall's own sons, Astor's own grandsons.

There's a lesson here. It doesn't take millions to derail your plans. Planning for incapacity must always be a consideration as you plan your estate. And middle class families are as likely to fight over $10,000 as the wealthy are to fight over $10 million. 

You may not have Astor's millions, but you have a right to make sure your hard-earned assets go to the people you care about most. Good planning can help ensure that your hard-earned money stays in your own family. One tool we often recommend to clients to achieve this goal is a Heritage Trust, but other strategies also exist. Contact us for assistance!

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