Horace Cooper

As many in the media await the results of a DNA test to determine the real father of Anna Nicole Smith's infant daughter, Dannielynn, some reports have perpetuated a legal myth. Consider the Associated Press story that pronounced that "Anna Nicole Smith’s 6-month-old daughter . . . could inherit millions after the former reality TV star’s death last month."

This is only partially right. Dannielynn has indeed had a DNA test. But there is little chance that this child will inherit millions.

Why? Because Anna Nicole Smith's legal claims on J. Howard Marshall's estate were always tenuous. And once the courts act, they will likely extinguish the claim altogether. That means Dannielynn is more likely to be saddled with legal bills and other debt from litigation associated with her mother's estate than she's likely to inherit any portion of Marshall's estate.

NO MILLIONS HERE

A quick review of the case Marshall v. Marshall (Anna Nicole Smith's married name was Vickie Lynn Marshall) illustrates why Dannielynn may not be a million-dollar baby.

Although it has been overshadowed by the media hype surrounding the former Playboy model's visit to the Supreme Court last year, the trial of record in this case took place in Texas probate court in 2001. The trial — complete with jury — lasted nearly six months. It found that Marshall's son, Pierce, was the legal heir, and it explicitly found no evidence whatsoever that the elder Marshall's will was interfered with or that there was any intention to make Smith his heir. It specifically upheld Marshall's will and his estate plan.

Despite the Texas probate ruling, Smith and her legal team went forum-shopping for a favorable judgment. After she filed for bankruptcy in California, Smith convinced a federal bankruptcy judge to award her nearly $450 million she claimed was promised from Marshall. This judge accepted her claim of tortious interference with a gift, finding that Marshall's son thwarted his father's intent.

This decision of the bankruptcy court was appealed to a federal district court in California. The district court vacated the bankruptcy ruling, reviewed the matter de novo, and reduced the award to Smith to $88.5 million.


Horace Cooper

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Liberty.