Anna Nicole Smith Loses Latest Estate Suit, Three Years After Her Death

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It's the lawsuit that won't die -- even after the litigants have passed on. He was an octogenarian oil billionaire. She was a buxom blonde stripper at a Houston club called Gigis, separated from her husband. Within four years, the stripper would begin a career modeling for Playboy and Guess Jeans, divorce her estranged husband in 1993, and then marry the 89-year-old tycoon the following year. The players in this notorious romance: J. Howard Marshall and Anna Nicole Smith (pictured here, in 2006).

Although they supposedly did not live together, she expressed her love for him in the pages of a diary. When he died in 1995, a year after they exchanged vows, she tried to collect on her share of his $1.6 billion estate. But Marshall's son, E. Pierce Marshall, insisted that Smith was entitled to nothing: She said her elderly husband had made her a verbal promise to leave her half of his estate, but Marshall's will did not mention her.

The Saga Begins

And so began a lurid 15-year legal odyssey that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. Some prior judges had declared that Smith was entitled to her share of the estate, while others reversed those rulings on appeal. Last week, a federal appeals court in San Francisco favored the team of E. Pierce Marshall, ruling that his father had been mentally competent when writing his will, which left nearly all of his money to his son, and that Smith -- or, rather, her survivors -- are entitled to nothing.

Over the course of this suit, Smith has been the subject of at least half a dozen books, a self-exploitative reality series on E!, tangled sexual relationships and the birth of a daughter, and myriad reports of drug abuse. Smith died in 2007, apparently after an accidental drug overdose -- and so did E. Pierce Marshall, after "a brief and extremely aggressive infection," according to USA Today. That leaves estates fighting estates for money that the original plaintiffs and defendants will never see.

Just One Survivor Left

In the case of Smith -- whose 20-year-old son died, possibly of drugs, shortly before she did -- the only living heir is Smith's daughter, Dannielynn. Now nearly 4, Dannielynn was fathered by photographer Larry Birkhead, whose paternity was established after an extended dispute, and who, with Smith's former attorney, Howard K. Stern, is in charge of the Smith estate. Birkhead and Stern had legal issues of their own: In 2007, Stern filed a $60 million libel suit against a Smith biographer who alleged that the two men were sexually involved. The suit has been settled, and charges have been dropped.

As for Dannielynn's share of the inheritance, Kent Richland, attorney for Anna Nicole Smith's estate, insists that the legal tussling is not over until he says it's over. "It really is a unique decision," he said after the federal appeals court hearing in San Francisco. "We have to take it farther."
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