Editor’s note: To read the author’s analysis that examines why Anna Nicole Smith’s estate does deserve money from Marshall’s, click here.
The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments Jan. 18, 2011, finally determining if Anna Nicole Smith’s estate can get any money from the estate of her oil tycoon husband. J. Howard Marshall’s will written in 1982 left $1.5 billion to his son Pierce Marshall. Texas probate court used the will as proof Smith didn’t deserve anything, but then a federal court intervened when she declared bankruptcy.
Stern v. Marshall
To understand the current case of Stern v. Marshall, there are several legal precedents to take into account. First is that Marshall’s will was filed in Texas and probate is solely a state matter. But when Smith filed for federal bankruptcy protection in 1996 in California, she claimed she was interfered with when it came to getting money from Marshall’s son, Pierce.
After several legal filings, the federal Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled in favor of Pierce Marshall claiming Smith’s argument for the money was not a “core proceeding” in the bankruptcy issue and needed to be resolved in probate court. This was after the original bankruptcy court awarded Smith $89 million in 2002.
In a Supreme Court ruling in 2006, justices determined the bankruptcy court did indeed have a general claim to oversee part of the state probate proceedings. Justices determined Smith’s case was not against Marshall’s estate itself but instead against the beneficiary, Pierce Marshall. So the case went back to the bankruptcy court.
Should Smith’s Estate Get Money?
Complicating matters in this current case is that many original claimants to the money are now dead. Pierce Marshall died in 2006 while Smith died in 2007. Attorney Howard K. Stern is still fighting for money against Marshall’s estate.
The current case will resolve whether or not Smith’s claim for money in bankruptcy way back in 1996 is valid. The interpretation of the law by Supreme Court justices will determine if litigation for probate can be a part of original bankruptcy proceedings.
J. Howard Marshall’s will specifically left assets to his younger son, Pierce. He even completely left out his older son. In Texas law, if there is a will then they follow the stipulations set out in that will. Should the bankruptcy court be disallowed to use Smith’s claim as a fundamental part of her bankruptcy then her estate should get absolutely nothing.
Texas probate law upheld over and over that the will takes precedence. Smith and her subsequent estate tried to find a way around it by declaring bankruptcy in a completely different state and different court system for a legal remedy.
The current Supreme Court case is to determine the original intent of the core claim issue as set forth in bankruptcy proceedings. If the Supreme Court is to determine the will of Congress, then the bankruptcy court ought to have some way to determine the original intent of Smith, at age 26, marrying a wealthy oil tycoon who was 89 in 1994.
If Smith’s decision to marry Marshall wasn’t based upon financial gain then why all of this legal wrangling to get money? It seems fairly straightforward as to her intent regardless of the law’s interpretation.