Jun 27, 2011

Curtain closes on Anna Nicole Smith estate battle

For nearly two decades, the public has gotten a lurid peek into the legal wrangling between late Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith and her late husband's family. Now, the final curtain has come down on the drama.

Smith married 89-year-old Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in 1994. He died the following year. Left nothing in his will, Smith sued the estate in Texas Probate Court, claiming that Marshall's son Pierce had conspired to cheat her out of $400 million. She lost that suit. The legal war then played out in the California bankruptcy court, which decided Smith was entitled to nearly $500 million in damages. However, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Texas Probate Court had jurisdiction over the matter, not the California bankruptcy court. Smith's surviving heir, a 5 year old daughter, will get nothing.

These high-profile dramas obviously pique public interest. But from where I sit, they serve as a lesson written large about what can happen when an estate plan is not properly drafted.  The Smith case was about millions, but I have seen heirs come to blows over a few thousand dollars, or a piece of furniture. The tensions can be particularly high when second marriages and step-siblings are involved. I don't have a magic wand that will ensure peace and love in your family. What I do know is that an unambiguous, properly drafted estate plan can go a long way to keep hostilities at bay after you're gone.

For information on how to properly plan your estate, click here.

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