Estate looting, probate abuse “stimulus” (part 1)

Is Texas’ population growth a “stimulus” for estate looting, probate abuse? (Part 1)
Lou Ann Anderson
July 9, 2009
U.S. Census Bureau figures listing Texas as home to four of the nation’s 10 fastest-growing cities is welcomed news in many quarters yet this designation also portends that increased numbers of people are likely to be impacted by estate abuse and other probate issues currently threatening Texans’ personal and property rights as well as their heirs’ rights of inheritance.

On June 25, Marshall v. Marshall, the Texas case which started nearly 15 years ago with Anna Nicole Smith trying to extract money from the estate of her late husband, J. Howard Marshall II, returned to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as arguments were heard (audio) from attorneys representing the estates of Smith and Pierce Marshall, the primary heir and now-deceased son of J. Howard Marshall II.  Fantasy Claim Spawns Nightmare Litigation provides detailed background on this litigation saga.

Smith’s challenge is a classic Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) effort and if her team were to prevail, it could ultimately disrupt American rights of inheritance with regard to a person’s ability to designate heirs and plan a final distribution of their assets.  With this case having a direct tie to the Texas probate system and with our state’s current growth status, the disposition of Marshall v. Marshall could impact numerous Texans (old and new) as well as their intended heirs or beneficiaries.

While Marshall v. Marshall is about a multi-million dollar estate and just one example of estate abuse, families of far more modest means are similarly being targeted.  The idea of Texans experiencing their estates being looted should be unacceptable.  Equally unacceptable should be a state luring people from other parts of the country by advertising a high “quality of life” experience only to then allow death to spawn a disregard of their final wishes and a legal nightmare for their legitimate heirs or beneficiaries – especially those who dare stand up to the corruption that can surround probate cases.

Traditional media reports on this topic are sparse due in part to news story competition, case complexities and lengthiness along with fears of reprisal for speaking out.  And despite the legal industry often minimizing the occurrence of estate looting actions in addition to characterizing victims as “disgruntled family members” or “would-be heirs,” anecdotal accounts of probate abuse abound.

Grave robbers, property poachers, asset looters, walker stalkers.  Because of these type people – with death or disability or incapacitation – your property is at risk, your assets become “up for grabs.”  That’s a terrible image, but it’s exactly what’s happening today as probate venues or probate instruments are being used to loot assets of honest, hard-working people.  In the wrong hands – and those hands are out there – wills, trusts, guardianships even powers of attorney are being used against the people or heirs that these very instruments were alleged to protect!

Upcoming installments of this series will highlight media coverage of estate abuse here in Texas as well as the implications of Texas as a retirement “hot spot.”  Cases involving the looting of estates are quietly playing out in courtrooms and legal offices across this country – and Texas absolutely has its share.  Reform measures are needed, but meanwhile, exposure is an important first step.

With the transfer of wealth that is getting ready to occur in the next 20 or so years, the Involuntary Redistribution of Assets will likely skyrocket.  People think proper estate planning will protect them – wrong!  People think they don’t have enough assets to be a target – wrong!!  There is no inoculation from the threat of IRA.  Forewarned, however, is forearmed.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas.  Lou Ann may be contacted at