Anna Nicole Smith’s family lose $44m claim from the estate of her late billionaire husband J Howard Marshall II
‘Playboy’ model’s relatives told they will not inherit from the oil tycoon’s will
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Wednesday 20 August 2014
The family of the late Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith has failed in its final attempt to claim $44m from the estate of her husband, Texas billionaire J Howard Marshall II. On Monday a federal judge in Orange County, California, rejected the Smith estate’s bid for a chunk of Marshall’s $1.6bn (£960bn) fortune, seven years after Smith’s death – and 19 years after Marshall’s.
The couple married in 1994 when the oil tycoon was 89 and Smith 26. Marshall died 14 months later and left his entire estate to his son, Pierce Marshall. The model and reality TV star contested the will using her real name, Vickie Lynn Marshall, and insisted her husband had promised to leave her $300m, but a jury in Texas found that Marshall had been mentally fit when he omitted her from the will.
The case has since travelled through several local and federal courts, including the US Supreme Court, whose 2011 decision Stern v Marshall changed US bankruptcy law. Lawyers representing Ms Smith’s seven-year-old daughter Dannielynn continued in their quest to obtain part of Marshall’s fortune even after Smith herself died of an accidental drug overdose in 2007, aged 39. Dannielynn lives with her father, Larry Birkhead, who won custody after Smith’s death when a DNA test proved his paternity, despite claims by at least two other men.
Pierce Marshall died in 2006. His widow, Elaine Marshall, is believed to be the fourth-richest woman in the US, with a net worth of more than $12bn, thanks to a 14 per cent minority stake in Koch Industries inherited from her husband and his father.
J Howard Marshall II, Anna Nicole Smith's late billionaire husband (AP)
According to Forbes, US District Court Judge David Carter said in his ruling on Monday that during the 19-year legal battle, Pierce Marshall and his earlier legal team had displayed “a distinct disinterest in rules or ethics.” But, he went on, Mr Birkhead’s lawyers had nonetheless failed to provide sufficient evidence of damages for him to rule in their favour.
“Time spent litigating the relationship between Vickie Lynn and J Howard has extended for nearly five times the length of their relationship and nearly 20 times the length of their marriage,” the judge said. “It is neither reasonable nor practical to go forward.”
In his concluding remarks, Judge Carter quoted Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, the plot of which revolves around an interminable court dispute over a contested will. “The American taxpayer has supported the burden of this litigation for many years, and it is time for this suit to no longer ‘drag its weary length before the Court’,” he said.
The executor of Smith’s estate is her former partner, lawyer Howard K Stern, who featured consistently in her reality TV series, The Anna Nicole Show, from 2002 to 2004. He has yet to comment on the ruling. G Eric Brunstad, Jr, a lawyer for the Marshall family, said in a statement that the Marshalls were in “complete agreement” with the judge that the case should finally come to a close. “All of us who knew Pierce wish he was here with us to see the outcome of this case,” he said.
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