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Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Son of Brooke Astor Convicted for Stealing Millions

In December 2009 Anthony D. Marshall, the 85-year-old son of longtime philanthropist and darling of New York high society Brooke Astor, was sentenced to one to three years in prison for stealing millions from his mother while managing her finances before she died. Mrs. Astor died in 2007 at age 105.

This brought to a close a long, sad family saga which included a five-month trial with celebrity witnesses Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters and Annette de la Renta, among others. The trial included so many witnesses I was asked to comment on the “guest list” by the NY Daily News. I noted that “There’s no way the jury is going to remember what the fifth witness, for example, said . . . even if the witness is Henry Kissinger.”

This case was a prime example of the complex nature of a fiduciary. A fiduciary can be any individual who is appointed or agrees to act for another. The fiduciary relationship is built on trust. As such fiduciaries have an affirmative duty of good faith to act in their client’s interest rather than their own. For example a broker or financial advisor has a fiduciary duty to place an order at the best price available in the marketplace, regardless of the brokerage firm’s own interest. A breach of fiduciary duty also can occur in a corporate setting where a principal or officer of the corporation acts against the interests of the corporation’s shareholders. Some fiduciaries like a trustee also have a legal obligation to fully and completely disclose to beneficiaries how the trust is being distributed.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for there to be abuse of trust by the fiduciary that either uses his position for his own benefit or flat out takes all or part of the money for personal purposes. Such, dishonest behavior is a breach of fiduciary duty and often a criminal act. What is worse is that often the dishonest fiduciary is a close family member. While a person harmed by the breach of fiduciary duty may be able to recover money damages in a lawsuit, often much of the money has already been lost by the fiduciary.

Therefore, it is important to immediately, retain legal representation that can prove the fiduciary is dishonest before it is too late.

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