Probate disputes over whether a will or trust was valid, or instead was signed at at time when the person was mentally incompetent or subject to undue influence, are common. They’re also very emotional and difficult for everyone involved. The Anna Nicole Smith case — the Granddaddy of all probate disputes — illustrates this more than any other.
I discussed the case in this article, including how the estate executor/lawyer/former boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, not only lost a request he filed in the federal Court of Appeals on behalf of Smith’s Estate, but how he was charged criminally with conspiring to provide Anna Nicole with the prescription drugs that killed her.
In Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights, which I wrote with Danielle Mayoras, we discuss the case at length (along with dozens more) so people can learn from celebrity errors, protect their heirs, and know their legal rights if they find themselves in a family fortune fight.
But a new twist on the case surfaced recently. While this development did not affect the case itself, and turned out to be nothing important in the end, it highlights how difficult these cases can get for those going through them. And yes, not just the rich and famous!
The Associated Press submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI and received hundreds of pages of documents that revealed how the FBI investigated Anna Nicole in 2000 and 2001 as a suspect in a murder plot against her late husband’s son. She and the son had been fighting over the multi-billion dollar estate of Anna Nicole’s 90-year old husband since he died in 1995. The FBI suspected she may have hired a hit-man to commit murder!
The FBI questioned Smith in July, 2000, during which she tearfully denied any such plot. She said she thought the probate case was almost over, and even if her “step-son” had died, the Howard Marshall fortune still would have been tied up in trusts and wouldn’t have gone to her.
The step-son, Pierce Marshall, was also interviewed and claimed that Anna Nicole rarely spent time with her husband before he died, and how Pierce’s father had complained to him that she asked for $50,000 or more twice a week.
The FBI took the investigation seriously. The investigation lasted at least 10 months. FBI agents even confiscated from Anna Nicole a .357 revolver, a 3 and 1/2 inch steel knife, and a black and orange “Dr. Suess” hat (your guess is as good as mine on that last one).
The FBI returned these items to her and closed the case in 2001. It found insufficient evidence that she engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme to kill Marshall’s son. Pierce Marshall died from an infection in 2006 at age 67, the year before Anna Nicole Smith died from a drug overdose.
Yet the fight over Howard Marshall’s money is not over, even though it started 14 years ago. Even in death, the two are battling — but now, their estates are duking it out.
You can order a copy of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! at TrialAndHeirs.com if you’d like to learn more about this case and many other celebrity estate battles, so your family won’t end up the same way.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder 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. You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.