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Friday, September 25, 2009

"Mrs. Astor Regrets" by Meryl Gordon.

After 19 weeks of listening to evidence and argument, jurors now are in their fourth day of deliberation in the criminal case against 85-year old Anthony Marshall, son of philanthropist Brooke Astor, and estate lawyer Francis Morrissey, who supervised the execution of a third codicil to Astor's will.

The defendants allegedly took advantage of Astor's declining mental state to have documents executed that redirect the bulk of her sizable estate to Mr. Marshall instead of various charities. Marshall and Morrissey are charged with 18 criminal counts, including fraud and conspiracy.

Brooke Astor died in 2007 at age 105. She reportedly suffered from dementia. Her last will, created on Jan 30, 2002, gave an estimated $198 million to charity, but three later amendments instead gave Marshall most of her estate. Defense lawyers say that Astor knew what she was doing when she changed her will.

A year before Astor's death, Marshall's son Philip Marshall asked a court to remove his father as his grandmother's guardian. Subsequently, Susan Robbins, a specialist in guardianship and eldercare law, was appointed to represent Astor. Robbins came to believe that codicils to the will were forged. One clue cited by Robbins: Although Astor's signature on her third codicil was almost perfect, on prior codicils she had trouble writing her name.

For more background on this story, check out Mrs. Astor Regrets, which was published at the end of last year. Author Meryl Gordon covered the Astor story for New York Magazine and has written extensively about that family. NPR's Scott Simon interviewed Gordon last December and a transcript of that interview is available here.

(Via The Telgraph, AARP Magazine, WSJ Law Blog)

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