A key and controversial figure in the saga surrounding the estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke died Monday.

Bernard Lafferty, Ms. Duke's former butler and one-time co-executor of her estate, was 51.

Mr. Lafferty shared oversight of her estate with U.S. Trust Corp. until May, when he relinquished his role as executor in exchange for $4.5 million and $500,000 a year under a settlement approved in New York County Surrogate's Court.

That court had yanked the executorship from both parties in June 1995 and assigned temporary administrators, ruling the bank had failed to rein in the butler's spending of estate money. Six months later, the state's highest court reinstated U.S. Trust and Mr. Lafferty.

In the years after Ms. Duke's October 1993 death, U.S. Trust was criticized by many, including Surrogate Judge Eve M. Preminger, for making an aggregate of $825,000 in unsecured loans to Mr. Lafferty, who reportedly had no collateral at the time.

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