Some Maine groups to benefit from settlement reached on Brooke Astor estate

Posted April 04, 2012, at 7:15 p.m.
Brooke Astor
Serge J-F. Levy | AP
Brooke Astor

MOUNT DESERT, Maine — College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor and high school students who live in the village of Northeast Harbor will end up getting funds from Brooke Astor’s estate, according to a court settlement reached last week.

Whether other local institutions might benefit was not clear Wednesday. The Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor Library and Saint Mary’s and Saint Jude’s Parish were named as beneficiaries in the will that was publicized after the philanthropist died in August 2007 at age 105. But these organizations are not mentioned in the settlement reached March 28 in Westchester County Surrogate’s Court in New York.

People who answered the phone at each of the three organizations Wednesday afternoon did not have immediate answers about whether they will get any money in the settlement. In 2007, the will that was publicized in the days after Astor died indicated that the garden group would receive $100,000, the library would receive $50,000, and the parish would receive $25,000.

Brook Minner, director of the library, said Wednesday that she is new to the position but she doesn’t believe the library has received any additional information about Astor’s will since initial reports came out nearly five years ago. She said she would try to find out more.

“As far as I know, we’ve heard nothing since,” Minner said.

According to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the settlement frees $100 million for charities. The main recipients are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and New York City’s public schools.

The settlement cuts by more than half — to $14.5 million — the amount going to Astor’s son Anthony Marshall, who now owns Cove End, Astor’s former summer home on Neighborhood Road. Marshall, 87, and the charities had disagreed on which of several wills and revisions expressed Astor’s true intent.

Marshall was convicted in 2009 of taking advantage of his mother’s dementia, partly by engineering changes to her will. He is appealing the conviction.

The March 28 settlement cites percentages of Astor’s estate, rather than dollar figures, that are set aside for the beneficiaries in Maine.

Donna Gold, spokeswoman for COA, said Wednesday that the college does not know how much money it will be getting from Astor’s estate.

“We’re certainly grateful to Mrs. Astor and are glad she thought of the college,” Gold said.

The 1 percent of Astor’s remaining estate that is going toward education of children of Northeast Harbor will be paid to a trust maintained by the Maine Community Foundation, according to the document. The settlement stipulates that the money be used “for the purpose of assisting high school programs which will best prepare the children of Northeast Harbor, Maine, for productive careers.”

Jennifer Southard, the foundation’s director of philanthropic services, said Wednesday that the organization has not yet been contacted by executors of Astor’s will. She said Astor’s estate has been estimated to be worth $65 million, which would mean that $650,000 — or 1 percent of the value of the estate — would go toward the local education fund.

Southard said Astor established a fund in 1984 at the Maine Community Foundation that has benefited staff and educators at Northeast Harbor Library, Mount Desert Elementary School and MDI High School but that Astor’s final donation to local education will be set up in a separately managed fund. It will be an endowed fund, she said, which according to foundation policies means that 4 percent of it will be made available each year to qualified recipients.

“It will be a little over $25,000 a year,” Southard said. “For programming on an annual basis, that’s huge for a school. This is really a gift.”

Southard said she is not sure how long it will take to execute the terms of the settlement, but she expects the foundation will receive most if not all of the bequeathed funds by the end of the year.

Rob Liebow, superintendent of schools on Mount Desert Island, said Wednesday that the settlement does not require the funds to be used for higher education. He said he would have to discuss the matter with Maine Community Foundation officials but that he could see the money being used for scholarships, minicourses, internships or other occupational-related expenses.

Liebow said he is appreciative of the fund set up by the settlement but added that it would be better if more or all students at the high school had access to it.

The town of Mount Desert has 75 students who attend MDI High School this year but only 12 of them live in Northeast Harbor, he said. The village has roughly 10 to 14 students enrolled each year at the high school, which this year has a total of 571 students from several MDI-area towns.

“That, to me, would not hurt the spirit of what the award was,” Liebow said. “I would think that’s the better way to go.”

Southard said she can see Liebow’s point and the foundation will look into whether the money can be made available to a wider scope of students.

“I’m certainly hoping so,” she said. “That’s not been decided.”

Astor summered for decades in Northeast Harbor and was known to give money during her lifetime to many local nonprofit organizations.

Before Astor died, her grandson Philip Marshall went to court in New York to have Anthony Marshall, his father, removed as Astor’s guardian. Philip Marshall alleged in court documents that his father was enriching himself and his wife, former local resident Charlene Marshall, while neglecting Astor’s health and well-being.

As a result of a 2006 court-ordered agreement, guardianship over Astor and her affairs was transferred from Anthony Marshall to Annette De La Renta, a longtime friend of Astor’s, and to the bank JPMorgan Chase.

The agreement also required Charlene Marshall to cede ownership of Cove End back to her husband, whom she had met in Northeast Harbor when she was married to a local Episcopal priest. In 2003, after Anthony Marshall acquired power of attorney over his mother’s assets, he had signed over ownership of Cove End first to himself and then to his wife.

For tax purposes, the town of Mount Desert has assessed the value of Cove End to be $2.7 million

The 2006 agreement also required the Marshalls to return paintings, family silver, jewelry and a 10-carat diamond ring to Astor’s estate.

Charlene Marshall, who according to the town’s online assessing database owns many of the properties surrounding Cove End, was not charged in the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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