A New York appeals judge has ruled that U.S. Trust Corp. will remain at least temporarily as co-executor of the $1.2 billion Doris Duke estate, overruling a lower court decision that ousted the trust bank.
Last last week, the appellate judge maintained the designation of U.S. Trust and Bernard Lafferty, Ms. Duke's former Irish butler, as co-executors of the estate.
The decision stands until the appeals court issues its final decision on the case on October 16.
"Until this court decides otherwise, Mr. Lafferty and U.S. Trust are still the preliminary co-executors," said Justice Israel Rubin of the New York State Court of Appeals in a handwritten order overturning the finding of a Manhattan surrogate court judge.
The clarification of the status of the co-executors came about after a Sept. 12 hearing on fees in Manhattan Surrogate Court, when Judge Eve Preminger rejected the attempts of Mr. Lafferty's attorneys to allow Ms. Duke's former butler to administer any affairs of her estate.
At that point, Mr. Lafferty's lawyer, Lee Ann Watson, requested the Sept. 15 ruling from the appellate court to confirm his status as a co- executor.
Justice Rubin's order also maintains that Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York and Alexander Forger, a well-known trust attorney, retains their status as temporary administrators.
Their appointments were made by Judge Preminger in May, when she ordered U.S. Trust and Mr. Lafferty removed as co-executors. At the time, the judge blasted the bank for extending loans drawn against the estate to Mr. Lafferty, a man with large unpaid debts.
A U.S. Trust official said that Judge Rubin's ruling is merely a reaffirmation of their status as co-executors and not a significant change going forward.
"We've been doing what the appellate court asked us to do, which is for Morgan and U.S. Trust to cooperate in the administration of the estate," a spokeswoman said.
Both Morgan and U.S. Trust have worked together since the May ruling. The assets are still held at U.S. Trust, which discusses investment policy with Morgan.
"It's inherent that the judge (Justice Rubin) expects the two banks to be responsible while the courts work on decisions," said Morgan's lawyer, Daniel Kolb.
Another trust lawyer noted that the unusual legal circumstance of there being two corporate trustees creates a larger concern for the ultimate beneficiary: fees paid to both trust departments and their legal counsel.
The lawyer described the complex estate as "the ultimate advertisement on why to avoid probate."
Justice Rubin's order is simply a midgame move in the continuing saga of Ms. Duke's estate.
It all began with the death of the tobacco heiress in October 1993, which elicited criminal allegations by other domestic servants of Ms. Duke's.
Additionally, the appellate decision stays payment by the estate of more than $220,000 in fees to accounting and medical experts hired by Richard Kuh, an attorney appointed by Judge Preminger to investigate Mr. Lafferty.
Mr. Kuh's findings that Mr. Lafferty was insolvent prompted Judge Preminger to remove the former butler as co-executor in May.