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Astor Trial: Brooke Was Ironic In Money Talks With Son

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NEW YORK — Brooke Astor's son claimed she asked him in 2003 whether he wanted all her $198 million fortune, but the aged philanthropist didn't mean it literally, her estate planning lawyer testified Thursday.

"I took it as an ironic statement," lawyer Henry Christensen said. "Mrs. Astor had given him money, and she was hoping she wasn't going to have to give him any more."

Christensen said Astor changed her will under constant pressure from her son for a bigger chunk of her estate.

"She did not want to make any changes to her will but she wanted to make him (Marshall) happy and get him off her back," Christensen said.

Astor's 85-year-old son, Anthony Marshall, and his estate lawyer, Francis Morrissey, are on trial in Manhattan on charges of exploiting Astor's mental decline to plunder her estate.

She was 105 when she died in 2007, and she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000.

The trial hinges on whether she had the mental capacity to sign off on changes in her will in 2003 and 2004 that greatly increased Marshall's share of her estate. Prosecutors say she was unable to understand complex legal documents, but defense lawyers say she knew exactly what she was doing.

Christensen said Marshall told him by telephone that Astor had asked him, "Do you want all of my money?"

Marshall went on to tell Christensen that he told his mother he wanted only enough to give to charity, said the lawyer. Christensen sent himself an e-mail on Dec. 8, 2003, describing his conversation with Marshall.

Defense attorney Frederick Hafetz suggested in cross-examining Christensen that Astor's question indicated she was lucid and comprehended discussions about her will.

Christensen previously testified that although the socialite was frail and declining mentally, he believes she knew what she was signing when she executed her last full will on Jan. 30, 2002, and an amendment to it on Dec. 18, 2003.

Marshall is charged with grand larceny and fraud and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Morrissey, 66, is charged with forgery. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

(This version CORRECTS day to Thursday, sted Wednesday; CORRECTS charges against Marshall and maximum penalty.)

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