Two Teens, a Custody Battle, and $1 Billion New York Trust

November 7, 2012

DNA Info in New York shared an interesting story on the intersection of a custody dispute, estate planning, and a one billion trust fund waiting in the wings. The tale is a reminder of how money and the emotions following a death are a breeding ground for feuding and conflict among many different parties. It is always best to proceed with the assumption that strong disagreement will arise and to crafts plans and take those into account. Perhaps those worst fears won't materialize, but, if they do, they must be accounted for.

The situation in this story concerns two teens who are set to inherit the $1 billion inheritance from their great aunt's fortune--the New York philantropist Doris Duke. Duke was a tobacco heiress andspent much of her time in a $44 million Upper East side apartment. Duke obtained the fortune after the death of her husband--Lucky Strike cigarette magnante "Buck" Duke--and holding from her own mother's fortune. Upon Doris's death in 1993, the fortune passed down to her nephew with whom she was close--the father of the twins. Sadly, he died in 2010 at age 57 due to a methodone overdose. He had divorced the teens'mother in 2000 and was awarded custody at that time.

As one might expect, confusion broke loose following the father's death. The children's biological mother was given custody at first, though serious concerns have been raised about her ability to raise the children, with past reports identifying her as suffering from paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The twins' stepmother has been trying to obtain custody of the children but has thus far been unsuccessful.

In this midst of this tragedy and custody fighting, the children's mother has been making strange requests of the $1 billion trust fund that the two teens will inherit when they turn 21 years old. The large fund is currently managed by JPMorgan with specific rules about how much funds are dispersed to the children while they remain minors. Recently, the mother has been making large, somewhat bizrre requests of the trustees, claiming that the children "feel like they are poor" because of the trustee's denial of many of the requests.

Right now the family received a range of monthly allotments, including $8,000 for housing, $1,800 for food, $3,600 to rent a car, $500 for gas, $2,000 for random monthly expenses, and pre-pad nanny service, tuition, medical insurance, and more. All of this, however, is apparently not enough and the mother has been making repeated calls for more money. For example, $6,000 was requested for a Halloween party, with the trustee providing only $2,800. At Christmastime, the mother asked for $50,000 to cover expenses for gifts and several trips. That request was denied.

In the midst of all of these financial requests, the trustee asked a Manhattan Court for guidance on how to respond to the financial requests. As often happens in these cases, the court has appointed an independent guardian to act in the children's best interest in the matter. It is still pending with the court.

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