Marshall fortune still pursued

Anna Nicole Smith estate still pursuing Marshall fortune
Lou Ann Anderson
June 30, 2009
www.EstateofDenial.com
Marshall v. Marshall, the near 15-year-old legal battle initiated by Anna Nicole Smith (a.k.a. Vickie Lynn Marshall) against the family of her late husband, J. Howard Marshall II, returned to a Seattle courtroom last week as oral arguments were made before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still at issue is that despite having been excluded from extensive estate planning documents, Smith claimed Marshall verbally expressed a desire for her to receive a significant portion of his multi-million dollar estate.

In 2001, after a six-month probate court trial, a Houston, TX, jury found that Smith had no claim to her late husband’s fortune.  Prior to the conclusion of this probate court proceeding and with prospects for victory seeming dim, Smith filed for bankruptcy in a California court.  That act became the basis for litigation that has gone through the federal appeals process all the way to the Supreme Court which in 2006 sent the case back to the 9th Circuit Court.

Shortly after this ruling, E. Pierce Marshall, J. Howard Marshall’s son and Smith’s primary legal target, died.  Seven months later, Smith was found dead in a Florida hotel room, but pursuit of her estate claim posthumously continues today.

Legal commentator Horace Cooper has studied this case and attended the Seattle hearing.  Cooper points out that Marshall v. Marshall has become a matter in which the estate of Anna Nicole Smith is now battling the estate of her late stepson, Pierce Marshall.  While the generational transfer of assets is an American tradition, a generational transfer of asset disputes will hopefully not become an American norm.  Cooper says the three-judge panel vigorously challenged some assertions made by Smith’s legal team and that certain defense responses generated laughter from courtroom spectators.  Though the time frame of any ruling is unknown, Cooper speculates that a decision could be handed down in early 2010.

This case is currently being pursued on behalf of Smith’s sole heir – toddler daughter Dannielynn.  As co-trustees of the estate, Larry Birkhead, Dannielynn’s father, and Howard K. Stern are presumably the adult decision-makers moving this case forward.   To date, lawyers are the only “winners” in this case and Cooper notes that despite once being touted as a “million dollar baby,” pursuit of this litigation could leave Dannielynn with diminished resources and/or significant debt.

While a unique case, Marshall v. Marshall has cautionary elements applicable to many American families.    Horace Cooper has written of a “new inheritance tax” in which legitimate heirs increasingly either pay to defend their inheritance rights or else forfeit rightful property bequests to avoid becoming a legal target.  It’s an ugly scenario perpetrated by greedy lawyers in concert with disgruntled family members or other wannabe heirs.  With dual income households and investment accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s, Cooper warns that Baby Boomers will be especially vulnerable to these acts.

Remember that Smith’s claim is based on an alleged oral pledge.  J. Howard Marshall II did not communicate any similar intention in six wills and seven other estate planning documents filed in courthouses throughout Texas by a man, Marshall, intent on his asset distribution wishes being available and well documented for proper execution.  Those in his family and circle of friends/employees understood that he was providing generously for Smith during his lifetime in lieu of making her an estate beneficiary.

These nearly 15 years of litigation have been about nothing more than attempting to use an unsubstantiated claim and the legal system to extort assets received via a legitimate inheritance.  If the Anna Nicole Smith team prevails in Marshall v. Marshall, this case could become one of the most influential inheritance rights cases ever.  It could set precedent that legitimate estate planning documents can be overturned based on unsubstantiated verbal claims.  Ridiculous as it sounds, that is what this case is and has always been about!

It’s that simple, it happens every day and it could happen to you.  Forewarned 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 www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Share
Commentary