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Widow to Get Share of Estate Plus Punitive Damages for Interference by Others
Description Court ordered that Anna Nicole Smith be paid $450 million, her expectancy interest in the estate of her husband, J. Howard Marshall, which he promised to give her. Marshall's son, who prevented the estate from passing, committed an intentional tort by interfering with the estate plan and will pay punitive damages when probate is complete.
Topic Wills, Estates, and Trusts
Key Words Estate; Expectance of Inheritance; Tortious Interference
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Vicki Lynn Marshall, a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith as Playboy Playmate of the Year, married J. Howard Marshall, one of the richest men in Texas, when he was 89 and she was 26. As an inducement to marry him, Marshall promised Vicki that he would leave her half of his estate. Marshall instructed his attorney to arrange a trust for Vicki that would include half of his estate. The work was not done because Marshall's son, Pierce, fired the attorney and conspired with another attorney to draft different documents. Marshall, whose eyesight was minimal, signed documents he thought were creating the trust for Vicki, when in fact they gave his money to Pierce. After Marshall's death, Pierce "adopted a scorched earth approach to the conduct of this litigation." Vicki sued for her share of the estate and for punitive damages.
Decision Pierce engaged in massive abuse of discovery during the proceedings. He consistently disobeyed court orders and destroyed documents. "Texas law clearly recognizes tortious interference with an inheritance or gift as a valid cause of action." Here, "Vicki had an expectance to receive a substantial portion of J. Howard's wealth." Both his son and attorney thwarted his instructions. This was an intentional act on their part. Hence, Vicki is due $450 million, one-half of the estate at the time of the marriage, plus other assets to be uncovered during probate. She may also collect punitive damages against Pierce; an amount to be determined after probate.
Citation In re Marshall, 2000 WL 1481545 (Bankr. C.D. Calif., 2000)

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