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Anna Nicole Smith Estate loses out on $88 Million

Can the Granddaddy of all probate disputes finally be nearing an end?  Those in charge of the Anna Nicole Smith Estate certainly hope not.  Smith, also known as Vickie Lynn Marshall, battled for a share of her late husband's multi-billion dollar estate for almost 12 years before she died.  Here's the Probate Lawyer Blog's discussion of the case to bring you up to speed.  Anna-Nicole-Smith-Estate-Trial-and-Heirs

To cut to the chase, Smith was broken hearted when she didn't inherit anything from the estate or trust of J. Howard Marshall II, her late husband (who was more than 60 years older than she was).  Smith filed legal claims seeking a piece of his fortune in two different states; she lost in Texas but won in California.  Her victory was snatched away by the federal court of appeals, but she found new hope when that ruling was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2006.  Yes, that's right, the highest court in our land ruled in favor of the ex-Playboy Playmate.

But, now, the three federal appellate court judges who reviewed the case ruled against her -- again. 

In fact, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision this past Friday, declaring that the federal judge who awarded her $88 million never should have done so.

Why not?  Because a Texas judge and jury already found that Smith wasn't entitled to any money from her dear, departed husband's estate or trust.   This court of appeals panel ruled that the prior trial verdict in Texas took precedence and precluded the California judge from ruling differently.

If you'd like to read the entire 62-page legal decision, you can download it here.

Trust those in control of Smith's Estate (including the infamous attorney Howard K. Stern) to appeal again.  They'll either ask the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case and/or they'll request that the United States Supreme Court again side with Smith.

Can the Anna Nicole Smith Estate be lucky enough to revive her case in the United States Supreme Court twice?

We doubt it.  It's hard enough getting the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case once.  Twice?  Doesn't happen very often, except in cases that have an important legal precedent to address.

And the circumstances surrounding the "Marshall v. Marshall" case are too bizarre, and the legal issue that the appeal is based on (having to do with the proper jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court) is too narrow, for the Smith legal team to have much chance at success this time around.

On the other hand, many legal scholars doubted that the United States Supreme Court would accept the case -- and rule in Smith's favor -- the last time around, so who knows?

Either way, the case still won't end for some time now.  It will take several months -- at the very minimum -- and maybe even years more to be finally resolved.  After 15 years of legal fighting, the feuding isn't done yet!

Ahh the legal fun that can result when a 26-year old stripper sets her eyes on an 89-year old Texas oil tycoon. 

Keep in mind that while this particular legal battle is unusual in terms of length and how much is involved, court feuds involving who should inherit from an estate or trust are far more common than most people think.  Yes, even for those who pass away with modest wealth. 

The best way to minimize the chances of it happening to your family?  Good legal planning with a qualified estate planning attorney. 

Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.

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