Duke of Earl Involved in Long Probate Battle Over Alleged Fraud and Undue Influence

Gene Chandler (aka Eugene Dixon) was one of the more prominent figures in mid-Twentieth Century Soul and R&B. In 1962, he released his biggest hit – The Duke of Earl. Following this award winning number one billboard hit, he began to refer to himself as the Duke of Earl. However, according to court documents in Cook County, Illinois, the Duke of Earl had a very troubled life, from felony convictions for Heroine possession to fathering well over 20 children by many women. Late in life, he married a wealthy real estate mogul, Lilli Kinnard, who already had children of her own.

Just before his wealthy wife passed away from cancer, her will mysteriously was changed to entirely disinherit her children, leaving millions to the Duke. In fact, the new will made no mention of her children and instead named several of Chandler’s children from prior relationships as successor executors. Even more shocking, the attorneys who drafted the new will were the same ones that helped the Duke negotiate his prenuptial agreement with Kinnard.

Today, Chandler is still embroiled in an ongoing will contest case and several supplemental proceedings involving allegations of fraudulent transfers of business and real estate assets, unlawful attempts to defraud creditors, and undue influence. This case, however, teaches a couple invaluable lessons.

Consultation Clauses

If you are in a marriage where there is any suspicion that your spouse may take advantage of you or abuse your relationship if you become weakened by illness or mental impairment, you can place a clause in your will that states the will is irrevocable without evidence of consultation with an attorney of your choosing. This is only advisable if you have been a long-time client and know that the attorney will be around and able to assist later if needed. You can select several names just in case. Although some courts may not always honor the clause, there is nothing to say you cannot put a brief explanation of the clause in your will. Thus, in the event your spouse does what is alleged in the Duke’s case, the court will at least be on notice that you did not have the representation you desired and it will raise red flags.

Will Retention

While most estate-planning attorneys will tell you they do not retain wills, it is possible to simply place the original will in a safe deposit box and inform at least one trusted individual of its location in the event of your death. By doing so, there is no chance of someone forcing you to destroy it or invalidate it in some way. This, of course, says nothing of writing a new will that revokes the original one; however, it is one method of preventing someone from getting rid of one of your most important legal documents.

Make Powers of Attorney Irrevocable

If you suspect someone may try to use a position of authority or dominance to revoke your powers of attorney or obtain new ones naming them as your agent, simply name someone you trust – perhaps an adult child or close friend – as your agent. In the powers of attorney, you can create language that makes the document irrevocable, even if your state has a statute that allows revocation in spite of mental incompetence. Although no efforts are foolproof and courts can often make decisions contrary to your wishes, this is another potential method of preventing abuses later.

Ultimately, nothing is absolute; you should always consult your attorney to determine the most effective way of preventing abuses and late life tragedies like those alleged in the Duke of Earl case. Whether allegations are substantiated or not, the fact that Kinnard’s children and Chandler have been forced to endure years of costly litigation is yet another testament to the need for careful estate planning paired with regular consultation with an experienced attorney.

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