Probate Law and Family Law Lessons to Learn from Anna Nicole Smith

The Anna Nicole Smith Legacy

Dannielynn, the daughter of late Playboy model, actress and television personality Anna Nicole Smith, could be awarded as much as $49 million in sanctions per court orders from the estate of E. Pierce Marshall, the son of Anna Nicole’s late-husband J. Howard Marshall.

Will Challenge

For over a decade, Smith attempted to recover hundreds of millions of dollars from the estate of her deceased husband, who was 90 years old at the time he married 26 year old Smith; and died one year later without including her in his will or trust.Smith challenged the will, claiming Marshall had promised to leave her more than $300 million in addition to cash and gifts she received during their brief marriage. A bankruptcy judge in California originally decided in her favor, awarding her $475 million from Marshall’s estate, with a federal judge reducing that amount to $89 million in 2002. Now, a California federal judge has ordered Marshall’s estate to “pay sanctions over ‘massive discovery abuse’ in the legal battle against his stepmother, Smith, which will ultimately fall into the hands of Smith’s heir, Dannielynn.

Virginia Marital Property and Virginia Probate Law

Under Virginia probate law, a spouse is legally entitled to inherit the estate of his or her partner immediately upon marriage, with certain exceptions, such as prenuptial agreements and property settlement agreements or PSAs, wherein couples establish their legal rights and obligations.
When any person having title to any real estate dies intestate, the real estate passes to the surviving spouse of the intestate. If the intestate is survived by children or grandchildren of a previous relationship who are not related by blood to the surviving spouse, two-thirds of the estate pass to all the intestate’s children and grandchildren, and the spouse gets the last third. However, if the property was originally an inheritance from the deceased’s family, then it passes directly to the children and grandchildren. Sound confusing?

What You Can Do Now to Avoid Will Contests Later

Here is how you can prevent leaving a mess for your loved ones:

1. Draft a will or trust that outlines who will inherit legal title to your real estate and personal property;

2. Sell your house…to yourself and those whom you wish to inherit it. A deed of gift or gift deed is a popular tool for transferring legal ownership and rights to specific property between relatives (though not exclusively). If you want your children to inherit your property after you pass without worrying about wills, testacy and family battles, deed the property to you and your children as joint tenants with the right of survivorship.
The right of survivorship means that when two or more people own property, upon the death of one of the owners, the property remains in the hands of the surviving owners or successors who assert the right of survivorship. The right of survivorship takes precedence over other claims to the property. It is the royal flush of ownership claims, and is the best way to ensure that your property is going to the right people.

If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family law attorney or divorce lawyer, contact Keithley Law, PLLCtoday by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office.

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