Celebrity Will Dispute Case Study: Anna Nicole Smith (Failure to Update Will)

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

We have all left online condolences when a favorite celebrity passed away. As much as we are fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous, we tend to overlook the fact that they are also humans with families and loved ones.

Just like the rest of us, they may struggle with financial issues, especially when it comes to estate planning and Wills. Here, we are going to have a series of case studies around celebrity Will disputes and what we can learn from them.

Do note that information about the celebrities has been obtained from internet sources. The definition of ‘celebrity’ is anyone who has significant current or past notoriety. The facts and laws can change rapidly, so the facts and law references are accurate as at the date of posting.

Anna Nicole Smith

The long-running estate dispute between the heirs of former model Anna Nicole Smith and the family of her former husband shows why people should always keep Wills as up-to-date as possible. The tragic and ill-fated life of Anna Nicole Smith gave rise to 2 estate disputes: once when her husband died and once again when she passed away.

Dispute 1

Anna married J. Howard Marshall in 1994. She was 26 while he was 89 at that time.

At the time of his death, his net worth was in the region of $1.6 billion and he had been married to Anna Nicole Smith for 14 months.

According to Anna, while they were together, J. Howard verbally promised to leave her half of his estate upon his death. Even if that was a lofty promise, she at least expected to be taken care of in some way in his Will, only to realize that she had been entirely left out. J. Howard wrote a Will and an extremely clear estate plan more than a dozen years before he died. That plan left all of his estate to his son, Pierce, and some charities.

A very infamous and ugly court battle ensued that lasted for almost 20 years with many twists in the journey. The Will was challenged in court not only by Anna but also by a disowned son of J. Howard Marshall, J. Howard Marshall III.

Pierce died in June 2006 and Anna died in February 2007 at the young age of 39. In brief, it was a situation of counter-suing where initial parties did not live long enough to see the closure of the case.

Dispute 2

The final irony here is that Anna left her estate to her son, Daniel, who had already died in September 2006. She failed to change her Will to mention her then 5-month old daughter Dannielynn. A few men claimed to be Dannielynn's father, and a custody battle ensued. The sole heir of Anna's estate was Dannielynn.


Anna's case against Marshall's estate continued on behalf of her baby daughter Dannielynn – named in honor of her older half-brother. Anna went from winning a more than $400 million judgment against Marshall's estate… with some reports stating that all awards were ultimately reduced to ZERO.

Learning Points

It is important to celebrate happy moments in life: marriage, birth, sometimes divorce. It is equally important to review your estate plans to make sure your Will reflects those changes in your life and, more importantly, ensure that your Will is registered to support its validity.

There are too many "what if" or "possibilities". In this case study, maybe J. Howard did want to amend his Will or wanted to write a codicil to gift some assets to Anna, especially when he was aware that she was pregnant with Daniel. Nonetheless, these decisions were not reflected anywhere.

Writing your Will is the very first step, and it’s an important one. But that’s not enough. In the digital age, the next step is to store your Will online. Otherwise, what happens if your person of confidence is not able to find your Will in a timely manner? liteWill is the only Will registration platform that is available globally and that provides the option to store your Will online. ‘A Will that is not online is like a Will that does not exist’.

This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.

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