No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The Continuing Saga of the Brooke Astor Estate
In 2006, Philip first noticed that his grandmother was being isolated by Anthony and that Anthony was grabbing more control over her financial affairs. Philip realized that Brooke, over age 100 at the time, was being kept in solitude in her Park Avenue apartment while he fired her long-time chef, stopped taking her to her doctor appointments, and removed her Alzheimer’s medications. With the help of her grandsons, control of Brooke’s social life and finances was extricated from Anthony. Her dignity was returned to her and she passed away at age 105.
Anthony was eventually convicted of elder abuse and sentenced to three years in prison. However, he was released after three months due to his age and health problems. Anthony died in 2014 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Anthony’s Will was filed on June 9, 2015 with the Manhattan Surrogate’s (probate) Court. In his Will he states “I have made no provisions here under for my sons . . . nor for their children.” Instead, he bequeathed the $14.5 million he received from Brooke’s estate, as well as her vast art collection, books, and jewelry to his third wife, Charlene, and three step-children. His sons, who saved Brooke from Anthony’s criminal intentions, will receive none of the wealth that was passed on to Anthony from her estate. Instead, it will all go to a woman Brooke openly displayed contempt for, referring on multiple occasions to Charlene as the woman with “no class and no neck.”
Philip and his brother, Alex, are at peace with their father’s decision to disinherit them. Philip and Alex have stated they do not intend to contest Anthony’s Will. Philip states he “is moving on.” Philip has established a website, BeyondBrooke.com, to honor his grandmother and confer visibility on seniors who are abused by their loved ones or caregivers. He has also testified before Congress and other agencies, as well as in various court cases, in an effort to fight for the rights of the elderly and ensure that Brooke’s experience with elder abuse can assist others who are in similar circumstances. He writes: “[t]o be complacent about elder justice is to be complicit in it. In fact, our national negligence is the proximate cause of elder abuse.” He further states:
When our elders lose their sight, it’s natural; when we turn a blind eye to their plight, it’s negligent. When our elders lose their hearing, it’s natural; when we are deaf to their cries for help, it’s negligent. When our elder’s lose their voice, it’s natural; when we choose not to voice our concerns, it’s negligent. And when our elder’s capacity is reduced, it’s natural; when their physical and financial assets are reduced without consent, it’s negligent.
A properly drafted estate plan consisting of a trust, power of attorney, and advance care directive can provide a defense against elder abuse. Unfortunately, if done when the senior has diminished capacity or is subject to undue influence, a power of attorney or trust can also be used as the means to conduct elder financial abuse. As such, it is always best to plan sooner rather than later.
In addition, proper deliberation should be given to the selection of one’s agents and trustees. Unfortunately, many individuals do not give much thought to whom they designate as their trustees and agents. These persons can sometimes become the perpetrators of elder abuse in much the same fashion as Anthony abused Brooke. The selection of an agent or trustee should be given considerable thought. Many seniors simply select their eldest son or daughter and then name as successors the children in order of age without really thinking about whether they are the appropriate people to take on the tasks with which they are being entrusted. Sometimes, children are not the best candidates to serve as fiduciaries and other relatives or friends may be more appropriate. In many circumstances, the most appropriate person is a professional fiduciary. Some states now screen and license individuals as private professional fiduciaries to serve as guardians, conservators, agents, and/or trustees for seniors and others in need of assistance. Even if your state licenses professional fiduciaries, you should be diligent in your selection of any person you select to act for you as agent or trustee. This is equally true when considering family or friends for those roles.
Our office focuses on all types of estate planning and trust administration, including incapacity planning. We can assist you in putting a proper plan in place and in the selection of your agents and trustees. We have knowledge of the common planning pitfalls to avoid. As a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, our firm is kept up-to-date with information regarding incapacity planning, avoidance of elder abuse, and estate planning. You can get more information about scheduling a complimentary estate planning appointment and our planning and administration services by calling our office.