One of the more public and famous estate law cases just ended after five years in probate. Yes, the estate of Brooke Astor is now closed after a settlement was finally reached. In the end, her (87 year old) son saw his anticipated inheritance divided by two and his control over influential charitable interests stripped away. None other than The New York Times followed the Astor case and covered the settlement in a recent article titled Settlement in Battle Over Astor Estate Is Reached. At the crux of the case was the son’s stealing from his mother’s wealth (the son and her attorney were both convicted, sentenced and remain free pending appeal) and arranging for the revision of her Last Will when she already was suffering from dementia. Originally, Ms. Astor’s Last Will left massive philanthropic gifts from her $100 million estate. However, later versions were revised to leave such massive bequests to her son instead. In the end, the court found these later revisions to be more the product of duress than volition, and her son now receives a paltry $14.5 million. I would recommend the original article for more on the Astor family and the intrigue surrounding the estate (and its planning). Certainly, there are lessons to be learned from this case. The main lesson I would draw is that substantial estate changes later in life tend to draw substantial scrutiny when the estate must be administered.
Reference: The New York Times (March 28, 2012) “Settlement in Battle Over Astor Estate Is Reached”