What Anna Nicole Can Teach Us
Anna Nicole Smith has become a household name. But that was not always the case. She was born as Vickie Lynn Hogan and grew up about 80 miles south of Dallas, Texas. She was raised by her mother and, at age 17, she married Billy Smith, age 16, a cook at the restaurant where she worked. She divorced Smith after a brief marriage which produced her son, Daniel. She worked various jobs to support herself and Daniel, including as an exotic dancer in a Houston nightclub, where she was known as “Anna Nicole,” as well as other stage names. It was here that she met J. Howard Marshall, a frequent customer at the club. Marshall, 63 years older than Anna Nicole, began financing her lifestyle and career. Soon, she became Playboys Playmate of the Year and a model for Guess?TM jeans. The two married in 1994.
According to Anna Nicole, Marshall promised her half of his estate upon his death. After a year of marriage, Marshall died; leaving a will that disinherited one son and did not mention Anna Nicole. Litigation ensued between Anna Nicole and Marshalls other son, Pierce. More than a decade later, both Marshalls son, Pierce, and Anna Nicoles son, Daniel, are dead. However, the litigation continues.
Anna Nicoles situation demonstrates why communication about your affairs before your death is so important and can prevent disputes down the road when you are no longer available to arbitrate disputes and explain your reasoning. When unusual events are involved, such as marrying someone 63 years younger or disinheriting your spouse, it is even more important to communicate your wishes before your death.
If you expect problems, you may consider using a “no contest” clause in your estate plan. Such a clause disinherits anyone who challenges your estate plan. In order to make such a clause effective, you may want to consider leaving something to those to be disinherited so that they have something to lose by challenging.
A qualified estate planning attorney can help you determine the best way to communicate your wishes and can help you minimize the risk of a successful challenge to your estate plan.