We can often learn some of the do’s and don’ts of estate planning when we examine celebrity cases. Perhaps the most widely publicized estate struggle of the last couple of decades was the battle between the former Playboy model and reality television star Anna Nicole Smith and the son of her late husband J. Howard Marshall.
As you will recall Smith married Marshall when he was 89 years old and he died about a year later. Anna Nicole contended that Marshall told her that he wanted her to have half of his vast fortune. However, the deceased billionaire did not leave her anything in his formally prepared estate planning documents.
The courts were willing to hear Anna Nicole Smith’s case and indeed, the matter dragged on for a very long time.
You may ask why her side would be taken seriously at all when there was nothing in writing, but she did have some substance to her case.
She was in fact legally married to Marshall, and he certainly had the means to provide her with something. No one was forcing him to marry her, so it is reasonably logical to assume that he would have wanted her to have something. People don’t usually disinherit their spouses, especially after just one year of marriage.
This case was held up for some 15 years before it was finally settled by the United States Supreme Court last summer, with both of the original combatants having passed away.
The takeaway here is to make sure that you are very clear when you are stating your wishes so that there are no misunderstandings or ambiguities. The best way of achieving this is to engage the services of a highly experienced, dedicated Cleveland OH estate planning lawyer.