May 01, 2009

Ms. Astor Regrets -- It Can Happen in the Best of Families

This week in New York a trial opened in which, Anthony Marshall, the son of famous socialite Brooke Astor, who died in 2007 at the age of 105, stands accused of exploiting his mother's diminished capacity to steal cash and property worth a whopping $198 million.

The prosecution claims that Marshall, and co-defendant (and attorney) Francis X. Morrissey, had Ms. Astor sign papers and make changes to her will that increased Marshall's share of his mother's estate. In addition, Marshall stands accused of paying himself $500,000 a year as Astor's financial adviser and transferring her property to himself.

The case was prompted, the Washington Post reports, by a court petition filed by Philip Marshall, Astor's grandson. The petition alleged that his father was robbing Astor and "neglecting her health and hygiene."

What can the rest of us learn from this mess? First, family members should pay close attention to their elders and make sure that they are comfortable, safe, and well-taken care of. Second, family members should carefully scrutinize the financial well-being of the elderly and question any suspicious transactions or property transfers.

If you suspect that someone is taking advantage of an elderly family member, find out how they've gained access to that person's finances. If your loved one still has capacity (the ability to understand what they're signing), they can make a responsible person their agent for finance using a durable power of attorney for finances. The agent can then block the evil-doer's access to the money. If an elderly person no longer has mental capacity, you'll have to go to court and petition to be named that person's legal conservator or adult guardian to protect their finances. 

For more information on preventing abuse of powers of attorney, see the article Elder Financial Abuse: Power of Attorney Scams.