Horace Cooper

Two years ago Anna Nicole Smith died but her legacy lives on. Smith – famous for almost single-handedly creating the FFBF (famous for being famous) lifestyle - left behind a daughter and an ongoing civil suit against the estate of her late husband, billionaire J. Howard Marshall II.

In the intervening years, Smith’s daughter Dannielynn has shared the spotlight of her father, erstwhile photographer, and newest member of the FFBF Larry Birkhead. The stalled litigation, however, has fallen into near-obscurity, despite its potentially devastating consequences.

Marshall v. Marshall is a landmark case, boasting more than a decade of litigation in two states before ever reaching the Supreme Court, and yet even now the case remains unresolved. To some the case is a Hollywood tale of decadence involving a stripper-turned-Playboy Bunny who finds true love in the arms of her octogenarian, wheelchair-bound billionaire prince charming.

To the rest of the world this case should stand for the proposition that an audaciously crafted legal scheme could almost succeed at snatching a nearly billion dollar estate away from its rightful owners.

The case has potentially ominous consequences. If the federal court ultimately rewards Anna Nicole’s legal team for its efforts, all of our estates are in jeopardy. The legal attack on this estate is a potentially new and dangerous type of litigation abuse which will inflict an enormous burden on the inheritance plans of all Americans, particular baby boomers who are now just entering retirement age. For them there are trillions of dollars are at stake. This case could decide whether they – or the courts- will choose their beneficiaries. With such a precedent on their side, unscrupulous lawyers and would-be heirs could overturn any testators expressed wishes by dissolving their life savings with legal fees or unintended inheritance judgments.

Rightful heirs who choose not to fight in court will forfeit the inheritance that their families intended for them, and their local and federal taxes will still be used to pay for the administrative costs of these assaults on the estates of others.

Horace Cooper

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