Decision-making, fraud, and undue influence—illustrated through the lens of the Brooke Astor story

Decision—In the Matter of the Application of Philip Marshall for the appointment of a Guardian for the Person and Property for Brooke Astor, an Alleged Incapacitated Person. Judge John A. Stackhouse, Supreme Court of the State of New York. December 4, 2006
First and Final Codicil prepared by Henry Christiansen, III, Esq, at the time senior partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Estates and Personal Clients Group, which had represented Mrs. Astor for over fifty years. Executed, December 18, 2003. In his interview conducted by Lori Stiegel, Alex Foger notes, “As to labeling the codicil as ‘First and Final,’ Christensen testified that he could not recall why the ‘Final’ was included. He stated that he had never used that term before. It was speculated that Christensen was either putting Marshall on notice that he would not ask Mrs. Astor to execute any more testamentary instruments or indicating that her capacity to execute any additional instruments was doubtful. Supporting that speculation was the statement made by Christensen—after the execution of the second codicil prepared by Whitaker— that he doubted Mrs. Astor was capable of making a major change in her estate plan.” (2011)
Mrs. Astor’s signature on the Durable General Power of Attorney, prepared by G. Warren Whitaker, III, Esq. of Day, Berry & Howard, executed by Brooke Astor, January 27, 2004.
Detail of letter from Brooke Astor to her son, Anthony (Tony) Marshall, January 4, 2007. Then, in a document prepared by G. Warren Witaker, Esq, and executed on January 22, 2004, Mr. Marshall appointed Charlene Tyler Marshall (his wife) and Francis X. Morrissey, Jr., Esq. as co-executors along with himself.
As reported by The New York Times (2006), ”The expert, Gus R. Lesnevich, a forensic handwriting examiner who was hired by Mrs. Astor’s court-appointed lawyer, said in his report that Mrs. Astor ‘could not have written the questioned “Brooke Russell Astor” signature dated March 3, 2004, due to the deterioration of her ability to write her name.’” Francis X. Morrissey, Jr. was charged (The New York Times 2007), convicted (Findlaw 2010), and sentenced on five counts, including forgery. He was later disbarred (NY Post 2010).
Letter dated March 4, 2004, from Francis X. Morrisey, Jr. to Anthony Marshall, subject: Terry (Henry Christiansen, III, Esq, senior partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Estates and Personal Clients Group), who had executed the “First and Final Codicil” (December 18. 2003) and had been removed as co-executor of Mrs. Astor’s estate (January 22, 2004) and as Mrs. Astor’s lawyer. “Charlene” refers to Mr. Marshall’s third wife.
“I feel I’m losing my mind.” — Letter to Dr. Howard Fillet [sic, Fillit], M.D., from Anthony Marshall on “more detailed information regarding my mother’s health” at the request of Dr. Fillit. December 26, 2000.
“…what is my income?…Is that for a month or year?” — Letter to Dr. Howard Fillet [sic, Fillit], M.D., from Anthony Marshall on “more detailed information regarding my mother’s health” at the request of Dr. Fillit. December 26, 2000.
“Are you my only child?” — Letter to Dr. Howard Fillet [sic, Fillit], M.D., from Anthony Marshall on “more detailed information regarding my mother’s health” at the request of Dr. Fillit. December 26, 2000.
“Brooke Astor was not all there, ex-butler Chris Ely says in trial of Astor’s son Anthony Marshall.” Joanna Molloy, New York Daily News, June 9, 2009. Sketch: Jane Rosenberg.
Flags, Fifth Avenue (1917), Childe Hassam, in Mrs. Astor’s library at 778 Park Avenue, New York. Photograph: Philip C. Marshall.
At a reception in her honor, Dr. Jimmie Holland (left), Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, being introduced by Dr. Jason Karlawish, Professor of Medicine, Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania at Ageing and Cognition: Maintaining Economic Security in Later Life, co-hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Healthy Brain Research Center and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Aging (resulting publication, Shaping the Global Agenda on Ageing Meeting the Needs of Cognitive Decline 2016), Philadelphia. May 9, 2016. The late Jimmie Holland, founder of the field of psycho-oncology, conducted important research about how battles with cancer affect the mind and how to help patients and survivors. In her later years, she turned to aging, co-authoring Lighter as We Go: Virtues, Character Strengths, and Aging in 2014.
Joining colleagues in welcoming conference participants: Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, the Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

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