What a wonderful end to a terrible story. The five-year court battle over the estate of socialite/philanthropist Brooke Astor has been settled.

It appears the good guys won – Astor’s grandson, children and friends got the justice they sought and the accused “bad guys” – Astor’s son and daughter-in-law – had their inheritance cut by more than half and lost control of distributions.

But before that, the pair and Astor’s estate lawyer were tried and convicted: Astor’s son of first degree grand larceny and the attorney with forging Astor’s signature on her will. Their prison sentence is being appealed.

It all began when Astor’s grandson, Philip Marshall, accused his own father, Anthony, of mistreating the woman and manipulating her finances.

Money or not, it was a long, grueling battle to sort out the details and unearth the proof, but they did and last week, it appears to essentially be at an end.

The local news coverage was small, but the story is huge. I felt a tiny part of it because of my Aug. 28, 2006, WND commentary “The years of living dangerously.”

I’d gotten a lovely e-mail from Philip Marshall thanking me for the column. I also had the opportunity to speak with him about the widespread mistreatment of elderly people, most often by their own relatives. He was right.

I was appalled when I’d read that philanthropist Brooke Astor – yes, that Astor – was being mistreated and cruelly exploited by her own son.

The allegations became public in 2006, and I realized that the rich are no different than anyone else. Of course, they have more money, but that makes them greater targets.

Brooke Astor was old and rich. Apparently she didn’t die soon enough for the greedy vultures, in her case, family and business associates.

Mrs. Astor died Aug. 13, 2007; she was 105. By that time, the details of the accusations by her grandson, Philip Marshall, against Astor’s only son, Anthony Marshall, had played out, in the media, of course, but most importantly, in the courts. And now it’s essentially over.

We all go through stages in our lives when people around us die and sometimes –
unfortunately, too often – two issues raise their ugly heads: money and greed.

It’s not just “rich” or “poor,” because people don’t always agree on what those words mean. Often the disputes that arise after a death center more on “things” rather than cash; regardless, it’s all ugly.

I’ve seen elderly relatives who depended on close family members to do the right thing – they trusted them to be honest and fair. They thought they’d taken care of all the details, so that when the end came, affairs would be handled properly.

They did the legal paperwork, had the wills and talked to family members. But most of all, since we’re talking about close relatives, most people assume and hope honesty will prevail.

The operative word here is assume and that is a big, big mistake. Assume nothing.

Assumptions that children will not betray their parents, or steal from them or lie and cheat for their “things,” are the core of more familial breakdowns and battles than one can imagine.

Sometimes it’s a clause in a will that one of the heirs never expected, leading one sibling to break away, cutting the others out of their lives forever. It’s an emotional wound that never heals.

Sometimes, it’s blatant theft.

A child takes over the parent’s affairs during life, colluding with the “family attorney” and siphoning money from bank and stock accounts, stealing household and personal items, and actually deceiving the elder to “buy” property by playing on their sympathies for a relative who’s had some “hard times.”

When this occurs, it takes decades to straighten out, thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, several lawsuits and ultimately, hopefully, a fair judge to see the injustices.

The saddest part is that by that time, the elder, who was the center of all the travail, has died and had no idea their own child deliberately betrayed them.

Such greed isn’t always over big things. A friend told me that when her grandmother was near death, family members descended on the house and removed the washer, dryer and other major appliances before anyone could stop them.

I know another family where the man of the house died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and almost before the body was cold, family “friends” moved in to “help” and did so, by literally taking everything belonging to the man out of the house and garage and filling a rented dumpster to get rid of it all. They took what they wanted and dumped the rest, not even offering something to close relatives as a memento of a life that was over.

The bereaved widow trusted friends and family to “do the right thing” but realized too late that she’d been betrayed.

The will meant nothing, family meant nothing, nostalgia meant nothing, love meant nothing. It was just stuff and junk. Period.

The deceased, who thought he’d provided the post-death guidelines for his possessions, was ignored, deceived and betrayed.

No one cared. After all, he was dead.

So much for family or loyalty or honesty.

But sometimes, the good people win and for Brooke Astor – for all the grief she endured – the devotion of her grandson was the salvation of what she intended for her estate.

It’s nice when the news is good.

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