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Court rules against Anna Nicole Smith's estate

June 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Anna Nicole Smith's estate is not entitled to a piece of the fortune left behind by her late billionaire husband, J. Howard Marshall.

The high court said it was a mistake for a bankruptcy court to award the now-deceased playmate $475 million from the oil tycoon's estate. This is because bankruptcy judges do not have the constitutional right to reach outside bankruptcy cases in a probate case.

The ruling is a big victory for Marshall's heirs.

"J. Howard's wishes were always perfectly clear: He gave Anna Nicole Smith approximately $8 million in gifts during his lifetime, and those gifts were all that he intended to give her," said Eric Brunstad, the Marshalls' lawyer.

Marshall met Smith in a Houston strip club, and the two were wed in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. Marshall died the next year and his will left his estate to his son and nothing to Smith.

Smith challenged the will, claiming that her husband promised to leave her more than $300 million in addition to the cash and gifts he gave her during their 14-month marriage.

A Houston jury said Marshall was mentally fit and under no undue pressure when he wrote a will leaving nearly all of his $1.6 billion estate to his son and nothing to Smith, a decision that has been upheld by the federal appeals court.

After her husband died, Smith moved to California and filed bankruptcy in Los Angeles, alleging in court documents that her husband had promised her a large share of the estate. A bankruptcy judge awarded her $475 million from Marshall's estate, with a federal judge reducing that amount to $89 million in 2002.

Smith had wanted the courts to accept that ruling. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in in San Francisco appeals court threw the bankruptcy court ruling out, saying a bankruptcy judge could not rule on the probate case.

The Supreme Court agreed with that decision in a 5-4 vote.

The younger Marshall died in 2006 and Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007. Smith's daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead, was named Smith's heir in 2008. The girl's father, Larry Birkhead, and attorney Howard K. Stern are in charge of the estate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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