Choose Wisely When Designating Power of Attorney – The Brooke Astor Estate

brooke astor, estate litigation, wills and trusts, estate planning, union and hunterdon counties new jersey

Choose Wisely When Designating Power of Attorney – The Brooke Astor Estate

Brooke Astor was a New York writer, socialite and philanthropist who donated approximately $200 million dollars to numerous organizations including the Bronx Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. For her contributions to the city, Brooke received many awards including the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1988 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Unfortunately, as Brooke got older, it became apparent that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Her son, Anthony Marshall, who resented her for abandoning him in English-style boarding schools as a youth, quickly swooped in along with her estate attorney Francis X. Morrissey Jr., and swindled her out millions.

Brooke’s other relatives have explained that eventually her condition deteriorated so severely that she could no longer recognize family members. In addition to inducing his mother to amend her will several times, Mr. Marshall gave himself a $1 million retroactive raise for managing his mother’s estate.

On Oct. 8, 2009, after 12 days of deliberation, a jury in State Supreme Court in Manhattan convicted Mr. Marshall on 14 of 16 counts, including first-degree grand larceny for giving himself a $1 million retroactive raise.

Additionally, Mr. Morrissey was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy and of forging Mrs. Astor’s signature on an amendment to her will. The jury found that Morrissey and Marshall had taken advantage of Mrs. Astor’s failing mental health to gain control over her fortune. In 2009, both men were sentenced to one to three years in prison; Marshall served only 2 months due to his failing health.  In November of 2014, Anthony Marshall passed away at home.

Brooke Astor could have prevented the legal mess that ensued after she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease by giving power of attorney to a more trustworthy person. For many years she had a strained relationship with her son Anthony; an individual who resented her well into his adult years. Yet for some reason, she gave him power of attorney.

If you are planning your estate, it is important that you sit down with an experienced lawyer. He or she can go over issues like power of attorney, living trusts, etc., and explain which mechanisms are best for your situation. For more information on estate planning in Hunterdon or Union Counties, New Jersey, contact Alec Borenstein, Esq., by email at alec@bmcestateplanning.com or call 908-236-6457 today.

Mick Jagger’s Estate Planning Lesson

With a black silk scarf and a Will executed in California, New York designer L’Wren Scott passed away in March. What she left behind goes to Mick Jagger—at the moment.

Raised by adoptive parents in Utah, Ms. Scott, originally Lauren Bambrough, left for Paris after high school. At a statuesque height of six feet, Ms. Scott turned to styling after modeling. Her success as a stylist led to a designing career. In 2001, Ms. Scott began a long-term relationship with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

Amidst rumors of an end to her relationship with Mr. Jagger and a business downturn, Ms. Scott committed suicide in New York on March 17.

The Will

The Will executed by Ms. Scott is both moving and instructive. Consider these points:

  • Mr. Jagger has a fortune reportedly over $300 million. Ms. Scott was worth approximately $9 million. Only Mr. Jagger and Ms. Scott know the true state of their relationship at the time of her death. On her death, Ms. Scott left Mr. Jagger the entirety of her estate and possessions.
  • By choosing to transfer her estate solely through a Will, Ms. Scott left loose ends. Had she created a trust, estate assets could have flowed to Mr. Jagger privately, providing him protection from legal scrutiny and applicable estate taxes.
  • The simple manner by which Ms. Scott disinherited her siblings leaves the Will open to challenge. The attorney who prepared the Will for Ms. Scott reportedly focuses in real estate and business law. Media reports note the attorney did not witness Ms. Scott execute the Will. Completed in May, 2013, less than a year before she committed suicide, the mental state of Ms. Scott could be legally questioned. Ms. Scott clearly intended to disinherit her two adoptive siblings. While Ms. Scott had not spoken to her sister in approximately six years, her brother was co-director of her company.

If potential heirs of Ms. Scott challenge her Will, and it is declared invalid, Ms. Scott can be considered to have died intestate. As a resident of New York, her financial largesse would likely be divided by state statute between her brother and sister, with nothing to Mr. Jagger.

Despite her financially troubled business and rumored relationship difficulties, Ms. Scott was a wealthy, resourceful woman. The reasons for her suicide and the reasoning behind her Will remain unclear.

When preparing a Will, it’s best to think through any and all scenarios to ensure there are no Will contests.  If, unfortunately, there is a challenge to a Will, it’s best to be as clear as possible to ensure your intentions are carried out to the fullest extent possible.

If you or your clients have questions about Wills or Wills contests, please call me at (908) 236-6457 or email me at Alec@BMCEstatePlanning.com.. Thanks for reading our second BMC newsletter, we look forward to serving you.

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