The Estate of Vickie Lynn Marshall (a.k.a Anna Nicole Smith)

At age 26, Anna Nicole Smith married J. Howard Marshall II, 89 year old billionaire and Texas oil tycoon, who died a year after their marriage.  Howard Marshall’s Will, executed after he married Anna Nicole, disinherited her almost entirely, allowing her to keep only the gifts he had given her during his lifetime (worth about $8 million).

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She attempted to have the Will set aside, claiming that Howard intended to give her half of his estate, and his son, Pierce, defended the Will as valid.  Anna Nicole lost in her lawsuit, and received no additional assets from her late husband’s estate.  This decision was followed by over 15 years of complex litigation (including two appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court), during which time both Pierce and Anna Nicole died and their respective estates continued to fight over Howard’s fortune.

Prior to her death on February 8, 2007 (at age 39), Anna Nicole Smith had a daughter, Dannielynn, on June 1, 2006.  Soon thereafter, she tragically, lost her son, Daniel Wayne, to suicide on September 10, 2006.  Unfortunately, her Last Will and Testament, last updated on July 30, 2001 included the following language:

“I have one child DANIEL WAYNE SMITH.  I have no predeceased children nor predeceased children leaving issue.  Except as otherwise provided in this Will, I have intentionally omitted to provide for my spouse and other heirs, including future spouses and children and other descendants now living and those hereafter born or adopted, as well as existing and future stepchildren and foster children.”

A copy of her Will, recorded as public record in California, can be read here.  Since she named her son, who had since died, as the sole beneficiary of her estate – and specifically excluded any other children, even if not yet born – her minor daughter was effectively disinherited.  Also, Anna Nicole’s estranged mother, and at least two boyfriends, attempted to claim custody of Dannielynn since the Will did not appoint a guardian to care for her after her Anna Nicole’s death.  Presumably, the would-be guardians hoped that caring for Dannielynn would include access to large funds and posh living arrangements.  Further complicating the issue, paternity and jurisdiction investigations were required to be completed before Dannielynn’s custody could be determined (as a result, the father named on the birth certificate was found to be incorrect).

Arguments in favor of Dannielynn receiving Anna Nicole’s estate are that the disinheritance was unintentional or, alternatively, that the Will was invalid.  In some U.S. states, if a parent unintentionally omits a child from her Will, the child can contest the validity of the Will and potentially receive a share of the estate (however, Anna Nicole was arguably residing in the Bahamas, not the U.S.).  Ultimately, on June 23, 2011, Anna Nicole’s representatives lost the fight against Howard’s son and brought the ongoing battle over the billionaire’s estate to an end.  Dannielynn will not receive a portion of Howard’s estate and, because of the costs of litigation, there were no assets left from her mother’s estate for her to inherit.  This epically long and costly battle could have been avoided if Anna Nicole had simply updated her Will to include, and appoint a guardian to care for, her minor daughter.  These simple revisions – reflecting significant life changes – could have clearly established her intent and provided closure and finality for her family after this series of tragic deaths.