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Probate Wars of the Rich and Famous: An Insider's Guide to Estate Planning and Probate Litigation by Russell J. Fishkind

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CHAPTER 3

The Astor Disaster: A Legacy of Influence and Undue Influence

Just how unentitled to the Astor fortune was Anthony Marshall?

Consider that John Jacob Astor, the nation’s first multimillionaire, had earned his fortune through hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and perseverance. First, he built an international fur trading empire. Then, he turned his attention and resources to buying New York City properties—lots of New York City properties. He bought so many that when he died in 1848, his estate was valued at over $20 million—back when that was real money.

His son, William Backhouse Astor Sr., though not the dynamo his father had been, managed and preserved the properties such that at the time of his death in 1875, he was one of the wealthiest men in America—leaving an estate of over $50 million.

By the time his sons, John Jacob Astor III and William Backhouse Astor Jr., assumed the helm of the Astor empire, the family aristocracy, now in its third generation, was firmly entrenched in the world of arts, philanthropy, and social circles befitting royalty.

Most notable in the fourth generation of the Astor influence was John Jacob Astor IV, who during his first marriage fathered Vincent Astor and Ava Astor. He later divorced, and, in an apparent midlife crisis, married 18-year-old Madeline Talmadge. To avoid the media frenzy, they decided to honeymoon abroad. During their travels, Madeleine conceived, and the couple decided to return home in 1912 and boarded the Titanic ...

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