A.G. Schneiderman Obtains Settlement In Brooke Astor Estate Matter

 

Agreement Enables $100M To Go To Charity, Ending A 5-Year Will Contest
 
A New $30M Fund, Sought by Schneiderman, Will Benefit New York City Education
 
Museums, Educational And Cultural Organizations Will Benefit; Millions For Central Park, Prospect Park And NYC Playgrounds

 

NEW YORK - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the settlement of the long-contested estate of Brooke Astor, allowing $100 million that had been in limbo to start flowing to charities. The settlement, spearheaded by Attorney General Schneiderman and approved by the Westchester County Surrogate’s Court, includes a new $30 million Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education, a cause that the storied philanthropist championed throughout her life. The settlement cuts Anthony Marshall’s inheritance by more than 50 percent, securing full restitution sought by the New York County District Attorney and allowing additional funds to go to charity.

“Brooke Astor was at the center of New York philanthropy for nearly half a century,”Attorney General 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 agreement provides millions in new funds to benefit Central Park and Prospect Park, and will also benefit New York City playgrounds. Other organizations receiving funds include the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Historic Hudson Valley, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Museum, Rockefeller University, the Morgan Library & Museum, and New York University.

The two largest beneficiaries of Mrs. Astor’s will, the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, applauded the agreement, along with other New York State cultural institutions.

New York Public Library President Anthony Marxsaid, “The New York Public Library is deeply gratified that the estate of our beloved Trustee and Honorary Chairman Brooke Russell Astor has been settled, and that her outstanding legacy as a great philanthropist and supporter of the Library can continue as she intended. The gift the Library receives will be used for reading and literacy programs for disadvantaged children in New York City, for the research and branch libraries, and for the creation and maintenance of a room in the names of James Lenox and John Jacob Astor, in accordance with Brooke Astor's wishes. Brooke Astor's dedication, generosity and love for the Library as an active Trustee for five decades transformed the Library in lasting ways. We are immensely grateful that her charitable intentions will be honored, and her dreams for the Library can be realized. Thank you to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to his predecessor Andrew Cuomo, and to their colleagues for their hard work, which made this day possible."

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, said, "The Metropolitan Museum of Art is deeply gratified that the charitable intentions of the late Brooke Astor, our longtime and beloved Trustee and benefactor, have been honored in the settlement agreement reached today among the beneficiaries of her estate. We would like to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for consistently advocating for Mrs. Astor's wishes."

Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said, "Mrs. Astor was a valued friend and benefactor of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and her influence is ever present in our commitment to bring science education to New York City's under-served youth. We are grateful to all who worked to preserve Mrs. Astor's great philanthropic legacy through her estate, and especially to the office of the New York State Attorney General. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his team have ensured that Mrs. Astor's generosity will support the people of New York State far into the future." 

Waddell W. Stillman, President of Historic Hudson Valley, said, "Mrs. Astor was a trustee of Historic Hudson Valley for 25 years, during which time she took an active interest in preserving our historic sites and expanding our education programs. This amazing settlement, among dozens of beneficiaries, avoids costly litigation that would have depleted Mrs. Astor's estate and delayed the distribution of her legacies, which can now be put to the good purposes she intended."

A centerpiece of the settlement directs approximately $30 million to a new Education Fund, modeled on a provision in Mrs. Astor’s 1997 will. The fund will be used to make charitable grants over a five-year period to improve education in New York City. The education fund will be administered by a recognized nonprofit institution to be selected by the estate in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.

The settlement also enables the long-delayed distribution of the Vincent Astor Trust, a fund set up under the will of Mrs. Astor’s late husband and currently valued at approximately $50 million. In addition to Central Park, Prospect Park, and New York City playgrounds, this fund will benefit a variety of cultural and education organizations in New York, including the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Historic Hudson Valley, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and many others.

Additionally, Old Master drawings and other art works valued at approximately $4 million will go to benefit designated charities, including the Morgan Library and the Metropolitan Museum. Most of the other art works, jewelry and household furnishings will be sold for the benefit of the charitable estate. Sotheby’s has announced that the auction for these items will take place on September 24-25, 2012.

The settlement provides for a payment of $3 million to the Metropolitan Museum in full satisfaction of its claim regarding the Childe Hassam “Flags” painting formerly owned by Mrs. Astor. The painting would have gone to the museum under various wills of Ms. Astor but was sold in 2003.

Mrs. Astor’s bequests to family members, friends and former employees will also be carried out under the settlement.

The amounts that will go to charity are subject to adjustment for taxes and expenses.

The estate has been on hold since Mrs. Astor passed away in August 2007 at the age of 105. Her death triggered a will contest, which was further complicated by the 2009 conviction of her son, Anthony D. Marshall, for stealing millions of dollars from her – and ultimately from charity – during the last years of her life, when her mental capacity was in decline. Among other things, the defendants were convicted of conspiring to have Mrs. Astor sign a January 12, 2004 amendment to her will (the 2nd Codicil) that would have redirected millions to Marshall instead of charity. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sought $12.3 million in restitution from Marshall – an amount that Attorney General Schneiderman insisted on recouping in the settlement.

As negotiated by Schneiderman, the settlement payment to Marshall cuts his inheritance to $14.5 million, less than half of the approximately $31 million that he stood to receive under Mrs. Astor’s most recent will, signed in 2002. As part of the settlement, Marshall and his wife, Charlene, also relinquish all rights that the will gave them to select the charities that would benefit from Mrs. Astor’s estate and to consult with charities about how their bequests should be used. Although Marshall has appealed his convictions and denies owing restitution, the settlement is binding on him regardless of the outcome of his criminal case.

The settlement is based on Mrs. Astor’s 2002 will and gives no effect to two later amendments beneficial to Marshall, including the 2nd Codicil. Key provisions of the settlement benefiting charity draw on an earlier will that Mrs. Astor signed in 1997.

The settlement negotiations on behalf of Attorney General Schneiderman were led by Charities Bureau Chief Jason Lilien with the assistance of Assistant Attorneys General Carl L. Distefano and Lisa Barbieri. 

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