Channeling Brooke Astor: Could this story be yours?

It’s hard to feel sorry for Anthony Marshall, Brooke Astor’s kid. Okay, he’s 85, but he’s still her kid. According to current reports, Marshall managed to appropriate from his declining mother, before she died at 105, a few zillion dollars that weren’t rightfully his. This despite all the zillions that were. And despite the fact that he had lived quite a respectable life as a diplomat, manager of the family estate, member of significant boards and producer of plays. The judge who sentenced him to one to three years for his transgressions said he believed Mrs. Astor loved her son and was loved by him. But it came to one pretty sad end.

It was a finale — some would say a sobering, Shakespearean finale — to a case that had mushroomed from a family feud over her care into a five-month trial for “grand theft Astor,” as one prosecutor described it on Monday, “a six-year crime spree involving a series of larcenies.”

In the back-story, heard sobbing in the courtroom or often shown helping him through doors and into cars, is Marshall’s wife Charlene. Nobody ever said Mrs. Astor loved Charlene, or vice versa. But the son and his wife come off as money-grabbing ultra-rich ingrates, who neglected, mistreated and swindled the beloved aging philanthropist.

Fascinating as such tales of wealth and intrigue inevitably are, several legitimate questions nag:  When did everything turn sour? When did a son who presumably loved and respected his mother forget about doing that? When did a mother who presumably loved and provided for her son become preyed upon rather than protected? And could the finale have been different?

Never having been on intimate terms with the Astors or the Marshalls, I can’t answer for them. But countless unspectacular versions of filial love gone wrong or lower-profile cases of neglected aging parents  are played out every day, and similar questions nag.  Could some open dialogue, before the parties hit their 80s and their 100s, have made a difference? Could closer attention, earlier on, to the complexities of health care  — and who would be in charge — have made the last years better for the aging parent? Were there wounds that could have been healed, plans that could have been made before dementia and calamity struck?

There frequently are. It’s easier, too, if you don’t have a zillion dollars.

Anthony Marshall Gets Prison for Stealing From Brooke Astor – NYTimes.com.

Your Money or Your Life

How old is too old to manage your money? Maybe Brooke Astor’s family could tackle that one.  Or a few of the folks who were living comfortably in posh retirement communities last year and now need charity thanks to investments — that seemed just fine at the time — with Bernie Madoff.

True/Slant contributor Ryan Sager has an interesting new post about “The Age of Financial Reason” that caught my eye thanks to its accompanying geezer-photo. (True disclosure: I am not Ryan’s grandmother — though I certainly could be.) He cites an abstract I find fascinating, although I tend to distrust any proclamation that plays fast and loose with phrases like “suboptimal use of credit card balance transfer offers” or misestimentation of ” home value.  Did these people ever take regular English? Nevertheless, they are seriously into their study, however convoluted their language.  They are concerned about us older adults and our potentially poor financial choices, since it seems “about half the population between ages 80 and 89 either has dementia or a medical diagnosis of ‘cognitive impairment without dementia'”. Good grief.

This is, truth be told, no laughing matter.

You would not want me making your financial choices. Numbers have never been my strong suit. This is despite the fact that I once wrote a pretty good little book titled “Money Management,” part of a 13-volume series designed to reach the functionally illiterate adult population (I was the creative part; co-author LuEllen Ransbottom was the brains.) What I did really smart was to marry Bud Johns; you should be so lucky as to have Bud make your financial choices.

But the point is, few of us can really predict when our sharp brains might slip right into that ‘cognitive impairment without dementia’ gray area. And the further point is, as noted in Ryan’s post, there is a limit to which government should not go in removing one’s control of one’s financial choices — at least, the financial choices we have left over after taxes.

Many of us geezers are less than pleased about the fact that careful choices past — such as optimization of credit cards, i.e. religiously paying balances on time; credit companies hate people like us — carrying only reasonable mortgages or other debt, investing in properly run, socially responsible companies — many who practiced fiscal responsibility (except Bud and I both, separately, did invest in Smith Corona just for old times sake) have found themselves penalized by measures taken to avert disasters brought on by the fiscally irresponsible.

What’s a body to do? I agree that families need to maintain awareness, at whatever age, of the financial choices being made by themselves and their loved ones. If they’ve had long-term investments with good investment companies or advisors, chances are those companies or advisors will not lead them astray. When checking out those links from Ryan’s blog, and a few dozen others on reputable senior and financial sites, I also found a zillion agencies out there eager to help. It is likely that the ones with .org after their names rather than .com might be preferable.

In a recent post I talked about the emergence of brain exercise, and its small promise for postponing ‘cognitive impairment without dementia’ (I’m beginning to detest that phrase.) For example: say six numbers out loud. Now say them backwards. You have exercised your brain. In an effort to forestall poor financial decision making, for the time being I plan to do my brain exercises. And leave the decisions to Bud.