N.Y. AG announces settlement over Brooke Astor estate

Bryan Cohen Mar. 29, 2012, 1:23pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the settlement on Wednesday of the long-contested Brooke Astor estate, enabling $100 million that was in limbo to begin going toward charities.

The settlement, approved by the Westchester County Surrogate's Court, includes a $30 million Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education and cuts Anthony Marshall's inheritance by more than 50 percent, along with full restitution for the New York County District Attorney and other funds for charity.

"Brooke Astor was at the center of New York philanthropy for nearly half a century," Schneiderman said. "Her legendary generosity and charisma touched New Yorkers of all backgrounds. I am pleased that my office led the way to an agreement that honors Mrs. Astor's final wishes and benefits New York's landmark educational and cultural institutions."

The settlement gives millions of dollars in new funds to benefit Prospect Park and Central Park in addition to playgrounds in New York City. Other organizations that will receive funds from the settlement include New York University, the Morgan Library & Museum, Rockefeller University, the Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Hall, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Historic Hudson Valley, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library are the two largest beneficiaries of Astor's will.

The centerpiece of the agreement gives $30 million to a new Education Fund that was based on a provision in Astor's 1997 will. The fund will be used for charitable grants during a five year period to improve New York City education. The fund will be administered by a recognized non-profit institution that will be selected by the estate after consulting with Schneiderman's office.

The settlement also allows for the long-delayed distribution of the Vincent Astor Trust, a fund set up under Astor's late husband's will, which is valued at approximately $50 million. The fund bill benefits parks, playgrounds and cultural and educational organizations.

The estate has been on hold since Astor passed away at the age of 105 in August 2007. Her death triggered a will contest further complicated by the conviction of Anthony D. Marshall, her son, for allegedly stealing millions from her and charity during the final years of her life, when her mental capacity declined.

The defendants were convicted of conspiring to have Astor sign an amendment to the will on January 12, 2004, that could have directed millions to Marshall instead of charity. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office sought $12.3 million in restitution from Marshall, which was recouped in the settlement. The settlement payment to Marshall cuts his inheritance from $31 million to $14.5 and forces Marshall and his wife, Charlene, to relinquish all rights to select the charities that would benefit from the estate.

Marshall appealed his convictions and denies that he owes restitution, though the settlement is binding regardless of his criminal case's outcome. The settlement is based on Astor's 2002 will and gives no effect to two later amendments that were more beneficial to Marshall. Major parts of the settlement that benefit charity draw on an earlier 1997 will.

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