Thursday, July 27, 2006

Brooke Astor at 104: Does Wealth Invite Elder Abuse?

The New York Daily News broke the story yesterday, and papers here and abroad have been all over it today.

Brooke Astor, long-time socialite and philanthropist, is age 104. Her care and financial affairs had been turned over to a guardian, her only child, Anthony Marshall. He's her son by the first of her three marriages.

According to legal proceedings launched by Anthony Marshall's son Philip, that was a big mistake. Philip charges that his 82-year-old father has kept Mrs. Astor in her run-down NYC apartment without proper care, especially considering the standard of living that a reported net worth of $45 million should afford.

Pending a court hearing next month, a family friend and a corporate trustee, JPMorgan Chase, have been named to take over responsibility for Mrs. Astor's well-being.

Today's New York Times cites estimates that perhaps one out of every twenty old people suffer abuse or neglect.
“The greatest perpetrators of elder abuse are family members,” said Bob Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition. “The rich and powerful are as helpless and vulnerable as anyone else.”

Professor Richard J. Bonnie [of the University of Virginia] described abuse of the elderly as “a kind of hidden problem, in all the settings in which it occurs, maybe even more so than child abuse is.”

He pointed out that institutional care had come under greater scrutiny in recent years, but that mistreatment of the elderly in the home presented a problem since it was not within regulatory oversight. Even well-intentioned relatives may be preoccupied with other burdens or not skilled in recognizing problems, he said. “And nobody’s looking over their shoulders.”

Financial exploitation, he said, “is most likely to occur when you have a sizable estate when the temptation for self-dealing may be greater because they’re concerned that the assets are going to be lost and not inherited.”

Another expert, Dr. Gregory J. Paveza of the University of South Florida, said that often when family members have been selected as legal guardians, “the court’s oversight is cursory at best.” The guardian, he said, “has absolute control over your life.”
You hear a lot about "The Sandwich Generation," Boomers with both kids to raise and elderly parents to worry about. As the Brooke Astor story shows, the sandwich is increasingly likely to be a double-decker.

Just yesterday, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Herald published this story:
When Elaine Peverly, 82, walked into the Pines at Edgewood Center last October asking questions about whether the assisted-living home was a good fit for her mother, office manager Glenda Stewart thought she was crazy.

"I went over (to co-workers) and said, You guys won't believe it; a woman in her 80s thinks her mother is still alive," said Stewart. "Then, sure enough, in comes Mildred."
Mildred celebrated her 104th birthday this week. And, yes, "She's still touching her toes at age 104."

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