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Charges of Financial Fraud Dominate the Beginning of Brooke Astor’s Son’s Trial

Of Her Own Free Will

When Hafetz, Marshall’s lawyer, got his chance to reply today, he said that while Astor was suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, much of the time she was lucid.

“Someone with dementia, someone with Alzheimer’s, is still a human being. … They do not forfeit their rights because they’re elderly and they have Alzheimer’s to make their own decisions,” the lawyer said.

Hafetz said the critical issue is whether Astor knowingly and willingly made the Jan. 12, 2004, changes to her will, bequeathing $60 million and sole power of attorney to her son. If she did, then all the money and property that the district attorney’s office is accusing Marshall of stealing was either essentially his or within his right to do with it as he saw fit. Hafetz said two leading trust and estate lawyers, Warren Whitaker, who executed the Jan. 12, 2004, will amendments, and Christensen, who executed another will change for Astor three weeks prior to that, will both testify she was capable of making decisions.

The defense attorney told the jurors that Astor “changed wills like some people changed socks”—33 times dating back to 1960—and it wasn’t unusual for her to make a series of will changes in quick succession. For most of her life, Astor had planned to leave her money to her only child. That plan only changed in 1993 when Marshall met his current wife, Charlene, whom Astor disliked and didn’t want to inherit any Astor money. But as her time neared, Hafetz said, Astor realized that it was important to do right by her loyal son.

“Like a tide flowing in at the end, she decided that’s where she wanted her money to stay,” Hafetz said.

Sean Gardiner is a veteran journalist who most recently covered the criminal justice system for the Village Voice.

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