Anna Nicole Smith seemed to go from one estate planning mess to another. First, she was the wife of billionaire J. Howard Marshall. For many years, she was involved in litigation over his estate because J. Howard never included her in his Will. But, even after experiencing first-hand the emotional, financial, and time costs of J. Howard’s poor estate planning, Anna Nicole left behind her own mess.
On July 31, 2001, Anna Nicole Smith signed a Will leaving all of her estate to her son, Daniel, to be held in trust with her friend, Howard K. Stern, as Trustee. Unfortunately, Daniel died on September 10, 2006, at age 20. A few days prior to Daniel’s death, Anna Nicole gave birth to a daughter, Danielynn, on September 7, 2006. Later that month, Anna Nicole and Howard K. Stern had a commitment ceremony on a yacht in the waters off Nassau, Bahamas.
So, by late-September, there had been significant changes to Anna Nicole’s circumstances. Yet, Anna Nicole did not change her Will. She did not change it to leave anything to either her new daughter, Danielynn, or to Danielynn’s putative father and Anna Nicole’s new domestic partner, Howard K. Stern. She did not change her Will to provide for a guardian for Danielynn.
Anna Nicole died on February 8, 2007. She seems not to have learned from the mess in which she was involved over the estate of J. Howard Marshall. Not only did she fail to revise her estate plan after major changes in her life, but she included provisions in her Will that overrode state laws that would have presumed she wanted to include children born after the Will was written. The laws of California (which govern her Will) provide that children born after a Will is written are presumed to have been meant to be included unless you specifically say in the Will that you do not want to include future children. Anna Nicole specifically included such a provision in her Will. Further, she appointed Howard K. Stern as guardian for Daniel. But, she did not specify that he was also to be guardian for any other children she may have.
Anna Nicole made yet another mistake. She used a Will to dispose of her property. This made her affairs a public matter. She could have avoided some of the scrutiny over her affairs if she had used a Revocable Living Trust to hold and dispose of her assets.
Do not make the same mistakes that Anna Nicole made. Review your estate planning documents periodically and upon any significant change in your life: the birth or death of a family member; marriage or divorce; significant increase or decrease in your assets; etc. Further, allow your estate plan to be flexible enough to anticipate changes which may happen before you can change your plan. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you create a plan that can anticipate many changes in your life, and can review the plan with you at regular intervals.
Compliments of the McGee Law Firm, Attorney Brandon McGee
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys