‘The Ultimate Betrayal’: Grandson Of Victim Explains Signs Of Elderly Financial Abuse

Oct 23, 2018

The late philanthropist Brooke Astor with her grandson Philip Marshall, in 2002.
Credit Alec Marshall

As the nation’s Baby Boomers age, more seniors are becoming vulnerable to various forms of financial exploitation.

According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission report released in June, studies have found that 2.7 percent to 6.6 percent of the elder population are victims of such exploitation each year. The report adds that these studies likely underestimate the true extent of the problem.

One man with very personal experience in this area is Philip Marshall, grandson of the late New York City philanthropist Brooke Astor. In 2006, Marshall took legal action against his father, Anthony Marshall, accusing him, among other things, of illegally scheming to take control of Astor’s $100 million fortune. At the time, she suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Anthony Marshall was later convicted on grand larceny and other counts. The case helped raise awareness of elder financial abuse nationwide.

On Thursday, Philip Marshall will address the issue of elder financial exploitation during a conference in Charlotte. He spoke Tuesday with "All Things Considered" host Mark Rumsey.

Mark Rumsey: Philip Marshall joins me now by phone from his home in South Dartmouth Massachusetts. Mr. Marshall good afternoon.

Philip Marshall: Good afternoon, Mark. It’s great being with you here.

Rumsey: Your family's case was highly unusual in the sense that it was very high profile and involved tens of millions of dollars. What is the broader scope of the problem of financial exploitation of elderly people in this country? What are some of the forms that [the abuse] takes?

Marshall: Well what happens is there's a couple things that occur. Scams such as phone scams and what I'll call “pure financial exploitation” involves straight out theft of money or other assets by a stranger. But sadly, as I know from my grandmother sad circumstances, at least two thirds of elder abuse cases occur within a relationship where there's an expectation of trust. It's illegal, immoral and a betrayal of trust — the ultimate betrayal.

Frequently, seniors are poly-victimized. Basically, they endure more than one form of abuse and are re-victimized, especially when there's an intimate long term relationship between the victim and perpetrator.

Rumsey: How clear is the line between, perhaps, some form of inappropriate treatment towards an elderly person with regard to their finances and actual exploitation that would cross all ethical and legal boundaries?

Marshall: It's hard to draw the line but in essence, it's when finances are going to benefit the alleged or actual perpetrator and compromise the senior that the line begins to get drawn.

Rumsey: In your family's case, the key issue was the mental competence of your grandmother Brooke Astor when she signed a will in 2002, right?

Marshall: In my grandmother’s case, abuse and exploitation happened for several years and it started a bit before she was a hundred years old. My father basically used his power of attorney, and he used it as a weapon and a shield to steal — as chronicled by huge irregular financial transactions. After that happened, he became emboldened and he continued his sort of serial exploitation.

[He had] my grandmother sign three amendments to her will to transfer millions of dollars — which was to go to charity — to his control. But it happened three years after he claims that his mother was delusional in a letter to a neurologist.

One of my big pushes now is to connect healthcare and financial professionals because with communication between these professionals, and with mandated reporting and training, such acts could have been arrested early on. The financial industry can serve as an early warning system. Basically, our personal ability to deal with finances is the first thing to go when it comes to cognitive impairment.

Rumsey: Out of your own personal experience, is there a message for family members — children and grandchildren — to be alert to what would seem like the unthinkable possibilities that this kind of abuse could be taking place in their own families?

Marshall: Really have a conversation with seniors. Our silence protects perpetrators, not their victims. Today, victims of this crime might be strangers. Tomorrow, they may be our loved ones or ourselves.

Rumsey: Philip Marshall is the grandson of the late New York City philanthropist Brooke Astor. Mr. Marshall, thanks very much for talking with us.

Marshall: Thank you very much, Mark.

Philip Marshall will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 25, at the 2018 Centralina Area Agency on Aging Annual Conference at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte.