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Duke Heirs Caught In Billion-Dollar Fortune Battle

How many people would jump at the chance to trade places with 15-year-old twins who stand to inherit one billion dollars in six years?  Don’t raise your hands too fast.  

Doris Duke

Georgia Inman and Walker Patterson Inman III would seemingly have a charmed life, being the only living heirs to the Duke family fortune.  That’s right — Duke, as in Doris Duke, Duke University, and Duke EnergyCorporation.Yet Georgia and Walker were recently suspended from a private school in Utah for about $25,000 in unpaid tuition and late fees.  Perhaps one billion dollars doesn’t buy as much as it used to.

The sad reality is that Georgia and Walker have spent most of their lives caught in the middle of various legal battles. Their mother is Daisha Inman, who now has custody of them.  She’s been battling in court against JPMorgan Chase for the last several months over the twins’ trust funds.

The twins’ late father, Walker P. Inman, Jr., was Doris Duke’s nephew.  During his divorce proceedings with Daisha, he reported to a court that Georgia and Walker would inherit around one billion dollars when they turn 21.

The Duke trusts are being managed by corporate giants JPMorgan Chase and Citibank. The New York Daily News recently reported about this dispute, in which Daisha accuses JPMorgan of being “harassing and negligent”.  She says JPMorgan made her children feel anxious and embarrassed about being suspended for non-payment.  She also claims the family was nearly evicted because the bank won’t release enough money for their living expenses.  Reportedly, Daisha and the children had to leave their island estate in South Carolina because of problems with the rent.

JPMorgan fears that it has to be cautious with the trust distributions.  It stated in a court filing that if it grants all of Daisha’s financial requests, the trust funds will be depleted long before the children turn 21.  The bank requires extensive documentation of every request.

And some of those requests have been extreme.  In 2010, Daisha asked for $50,000 for Christmas gifts, including a trip around the world for the twins.  She also wanted $6,000 for a Halloween party.  She says she spends $1,000 per month for her children to eat out, especially at Starbucks.

Records show that she receives more than $16,000 per month for living expenses, plus tuition, medical insurance, and more.  Yet, Daisha claims this pales in comparison to the $180,000 that the twins’ father used to spend on their care before he died of a methadone overdose in 2010.

At first blush, it seems odd that the bank would be so tight-fisted with such a large amount of money.  If the childrens’ trust funds total a billion dollars, then one year’s worth of interest alone, at a conservative two percent, would equal twenty million dollars.  In other words, there would be more than enough money to spend on every request without coming close to tapping into the principal.

In reality, we suspect that the trust funds are a lot smaller than the one-billion figure that Walker Inman, Jr. reported — a figure that has been widely reported since then.  Walker, Jr., while a very wealthy man, was not a direct heir to the Doris Duke fortune, other than receiving about $350,000 per year while he was alive.  Doris Duke was the only daughter of tobacco and energy magnate James Buchanan “Buck” Duke and almost all of her share of the Duke fortune went to charity when she died.

Of course, Walker, Jr., and his kids both inherited through his grandmother, Nanaline Holt Inman (who was Doris Duke’s mother).  Walker Jr.’s father and Doris Duke were half-siblings.  Here’s an article showing the Duke/Inman family tree.

Reportedly, the twins’ share of the Nanaline Holt Inman Trust is worth around $28 million.  There are other Duke family trusts for them as well, but chances are pretty good that the one-billion dollar figure is over-stated.  Otherwise, the bank would have no fears about depleting the trust assets in the next six years.

Either way, the actual value of the trust funds for the twins would still be substantial.  So the big question remains, why is JPMorgan Chase being so cautious with the money?  Even at $28 million, it would be hard to use up all of the trust funds.

The real reason may be due to the twins’ mother, Daisha.  When she and Walker, Jr., divorced in 2000, they embarked on a ten-year war for custody, visitation, and everything else having to do with the twins.  Walker, Jr. won custody of the children and appeared to do everything in his power to prevent Daisha from visiting with them.  Their epic court battles reached the Wyoming Supreme Court twice.  The court process revealed how the twins needed extensive therapy and there were significant concerns with Daisha’s judgment and commitment to a relationship her children.

The post-divorce fight ended with Walker, Jr.’s death in 2010.  His widow (and fifth wife) then picked up the custody battle, trying to prove that Daisha was too unfit to have custody of her children.  Reports of that court case state that Daisha was a former topless dancer with psychological problems including paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nonetheless, in August of 2010, the children were returned to Daisha’s custody, and immediately began intensive counseling to help them rekindle their relationship with their mother, from whom they had been separated for long periods of time.  During the sessions, the children reported being physically abused and neglected while living with Walker, Jr. and his fifth wife.  Those allegations have been contested by the widow, who says Daisha planted those thoughts in the twins’ heads.

While the children are no longer subject to custody battles (at least, not at the moment), they are obviously still paying the price for all the fighting.  JPMorgan clearly does not want to release more money to Daisha than it has to, even when its caution results in the twins being suspended.

It’s sad that the children have never known a time when they were free of court battles.  But it may not be a surprise.  The Duke family fortune has been subject to legal struggles like these ever since James Buchanan Duke died in 1925.   His estate, as well as the estate of Doris Duke, were both marred by fighting over control of the large family fortune.  We detail the scandals behind the Doris Duke estate in our book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!.

Fighting over control of trusts and estates is not limited to billion-dollar fortunes.  That’s why the choice of whom is to serve as executor or trustee is always a critical component of proper estate planning.  When the wrong person is chosen, trust funds can be depleted in a hurry, to the detriment of all the heirs.

By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs:  Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update.  You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.

For legal help in Michigan, visit Andy and Danielle's law firm's websites, The Center for Elder Law and The Center for Probate Litigation.