If you are a responsible, self-supporting adult estate planning is relevant to you. There are those who are under the impression that legacy planning is something you don’t have to concern yourself with until you reach an advanced age, but this is patently untrue because planning for the future is essential for people of all walks of life and all ages.
You never know what the future has in store for you, so it is important to be prepared. After all, estate planning is done for the benefit of your family members and making sure they are provided for, come what may, should certainly be a priority.
With that in mind, estate planning attorneys always remind their clients that the effort is not completed once you leave their office the first time with your signed estate planning documents in hand. If you’re like most people things will happen in your life that have a direct impact on your existing estate plan, oftentimes rendering it obsolete, at least in part. One of these that is very common is changes in marital status.
To see an example of the mess that can ensue if you do not state your intentions clearly after getting married, or re-married, look no further than the case of Anna Nicole Smith. Smith, who passed away in 2007, married octogenarian J. Howard Marshall in 1994 in spite of their 63 year age difference. Marshall was a very wealthy man with a net worth estimated at $1.8 billion.
The Texas oil magnate died just over a year after marrying Smith. She said he promised her that she would receive half of his fortune after he passed away. His last will however excluded her, leaving virtually all of his wealth to one of his two sons (he disinherited the other).
The two parties could reach no mutually agreeable solution so the matter bounced around multiple courts for many years. Smith’s nemesis E. Pierce Marshall died in 2006, and Anna Nicole passed away in 2007, but the matter of the contested estate of the elder Marshall had still not been resolved.
Finally, just this past June the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the estate of E. Pierce Marshall. His heirs will receive the entirety of the elder Marshall’s fortune and the estate of Anna Nicole Smith will receive nothing in return for the 15 years of effort.
The point is not whether this was an appropriate decision. And, it’s likely nothing could have been done to privately resolve this particular matter given the circumstances and the amount of money involved. But it clearly demonstrates the importance of keeping your plan up to date and making your wishes clear so a court does not have to spend years resolving the matter.
President and Founding Attorney
Parman & Easterday