What Howard K. Stern has to do with you

EstateofDenial.com regularly talks about unscrupulous individuals creating estate disputes.  With that, we find the arrest of Howard K. Stern, former attorney and companion of Anna Nicole Smith, an interesting development.  We recognize that all three defendants are innocent until proven guilty, but these charges against Stern clearly allege opportunistic and exploitative activities – the same characteristics often seen with Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) acts in which probate venues and/or probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships) are used to distribute assets in a manner contrary to the asset owner’s wishes.  EoD has great interest in Stern’s influence and actions as Smith’s attorney, particularly with regard to the estate conflict created with the family of J. Howard Marshall II.

Last week, Stern, as executor of Smith’s estate, filed an application with the Supreme Court to attempt re-starting Marshall v. Marshall, the nearly 15-year-old legal dispute initiated by Anna Nicole Smith in which she maintained her late husband orally promised her half of his fortune.  A 2006 Supreme Court ruling said that Smith could pursue a claim against the Marshall estate, but it is not believed to have reversed the stay on an $88 million judgment from which Stern and company would like to begin securing funds so as to presumably take additional legal action against the Marshall family.

A statement from the Marshall family says:

Anna Nicole’s case was without merit when she originally filed it, failing to bring forth one single witness confirming her claim, and nothing has changed after more than a decade of litigation.

Think about that:  Does it make sense that Smith (or now a legal team acting on her estate’s behalf) should receive $400 million or so based exclusively on her word which is not supported by any document or witness while at the same time, an abundance of documents and witnesses exist in support of J. Howard Marshall’s intentions that Pierce Marshall was to be his sole heir?

While Anna Nicole Smith’s claims against the Marshall estate have provided great fodder for tabloid-type entertainment venues, many legitimate legal experts – along with a Texas jury – believe her action to be unfounded, even frivolous.  But understand, incredible as it is, should the relentless pursuit of J. Howard Marshall II’s estate by Anna Nicole Smith or her executors actually be successful, Smith could ultimately become the woman responsible for drastically eroding American inheritance rights!  Not just that of the Marshall family, but presumably of yours, too!

EstateofDenial.com wrote about Marshall v. Marshall (Anna Nicole Smith’s married name was Vickie Lynn Marshall) in a two-part post entitled Marshall v. Marshall: fantasy claims spawn nightmare litigation.  While some media position Smith as the aggrieved party denied her “rightful” inheritance, the reality is that J. Howard Marshall II never intended to include her in his will.  He had spent several million dollars on Smith in the three years prior to their marriage and another $6.7 million during the 14-month marriage.  Smith claimed that Marshall verbally promised to leave her half of his assets valued by some up to $1.6 billion. This oral commitment was not reflected in six wills and seven other estate planning documents filed in courthouses throughout Texas by a man (J. Howard Marshall II) intent on his distribution wishes being available and well documented for proper execution.  Those in his family and circle of friends/employees were aware that he was providing generously for Smith during his lifetime in lieu of making her an estate beneficiary.  Despite all this, an alleged verbal claim has been the basis for nearly 15 years of litigation that continues today.

What happens to Howard K. Stern could significantly impact the Marshall v. Marshall case.  What happens in the Marshall case will make a strong stand either for or against an individual’s right to determine the final distribution of their assets. Our column Estate Looting of the Rich and Famous (and How It Can Happen to You) details how these actions might one day affect you or your heirs.  The instances of these cases are increasing throughout the economic spectrum.  Public exposure and understanding are important first steps.

Forewarned is forearmed!