Doris Duke’s Trustee Bilked Estate for $1M: How Well Do You Know Yours?

Choosing the right trustee is a personal matter and very important. Leaving the choice to chance can be disastrous to your estate. Doris Duke did not choose wisely. She was an heiress of Duke’s energy and tobacco fortunes who died in 1992. Her trusted trustee was not such a great choice and cheated over $1 million from the estate. Use Doris Duke as an example of what not to do.

The Butler Did It!

The old saying “The Butler Did It!” applies to this situation. Doris Duke choose her butler to be her estate’s trustee which was worth $1.3 billion when she passed. Apparently, the money was too much of a temptation for Bernard Laffety. He was an Irish immigrant that only received a grade school education. Laffety went on a spending spree after Duke’s death. Spending over $1 million on himself, he caused his position of trustee to be removed after only three years. Some of the things he spent the money on were luxury store items, traveling all over the world, and spending $60 thousand redecorating Doris Duke’s bedroom for himself. Once he borrowed over $825,000 from the U.S. Trust Company, the estate’s co-executor, without paying any interest. That was the final step that caused him to be removed from his position as trustee after serving only three years.

5 Characteristics of a Good Trustee

As tempting and convenient as it might be to choose a family member, friend or your butler to be your estate trustee, it may not be the best. The trustee is to manage your estate and financial future so the choice should be taken seriously and made as a business decision. They need to give the highest of care to the responsibility of managing the estate. Some characteristics to be sure your trustee possesses are:

  1. Being organized
  2. Being dependable
  3. Being detail-oriented
  4. Being experienced in business matters
  5. Being confident in their understanding of your wishes

Your trustee could be influenced and tempted by anyone who does not agree with your terms after you pass. Choosing a family member can put the trustee in the position of saying no to ones they love, too. Pressure by those that will not take a simple no for an answer could put that trustee in a situation that you don’t want and can’t handle. Using a professional as your trustee should be strongly considered.

Protect Your Assets, Heirs & Wishes

Our office can show you the best way to protect your assets, heirs and your intentions when choosing a trustee, writing your will or creating an estate plan. We can help you decide the best trustee for your situation. Call our office today and schedule a time we can help you make a plan to protect you, your family and your assets.


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