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Anna Nichole Smith's probate battle may escalate again

As many California residents may know, having an estate plan in place may help avoid bitter, lengthy and costly disputes when someone dies. The battle between Anna Nicole Smith's estate and her husband's family is testament to what may happen when an estate is challenged. While both Smith and the eldest son of the man she married are dead, the battle continues between the estate's heirs.

Her estate's 19-plus year battle, set in multiple courts, illustrates how a dispute over inheritance may proceed. Although a will designates what a benefactor wishes to leave to their heirs, probate is a public forum where family members and other individuals may review the legacy and dispute it.

The battle over her husband's estate began after the billionaire died leaving everything to his eldest son and nothing to Smith, whom he married about a year before his death. She filed a lawsuit in Texas to overturn the will. The probate court denied it. Smith declared bankruptcy in California, which led to a judgment of $475 million. It was reduced in federal court and ultimately dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Smith appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to decide if a federal court had the right to rule on a state court's decision. The Supreme Court ruled that Smith had a right to argue her case. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled against the decision by the California bankruptcy court. The case is back in Texas with an appeal aimed at the original probate court's decision.

An attorney, in a case similar to this one, may assist an individual structure an estate plan that is solid. Beyond that, an attorney may counsel the benefactor on the use of trusts that are not subject to probate and hence public scrutiny.

Source: Forbes, "Not So Fast: The Anna Nicole Smith Estate Battle Isn't Over Yet", Danielle and Andy Mayoras, August 21, 2014

Source: Forbes, "Not So Fast: The Anna Nicole Smith Estate Battle Isn't Over Yet", Danielle and Andy Mayoras, August 21, 2014

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