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SC Ruling Issued in Anna Nicole Smith Property Division Case

The exceptionally media-friendly Anna Nicole Smith estate-battle saga "is better than a Harlequin romance novel" stated one reporter a few years back. It featured a former Playboy centerfold; a real Texas tycoon so enamored of her that he married her when he was 90 and she was 27; an extravagant outlay of millions of dollars worth of gifts bestowed upon her during their short marriage that ended with the husband's death about a year later; unbounded acrimony between the widow and her former husband's family; rival claims concerning high-asset property division; and estate intrigue that spilled across multiple types and levels of courts.

Last week might have marked the final chapter in the decade-plus spat between Smith and surviving members of J. Howard Marshall's family, with no less than the U.S. Supreme Court wading in with a pronouncement in the case.

The narrow 5-4 ruling, authored by the Court's Chief Justice, John Roberts, was this: The bankruptcy court that awarded Smith $475 million from Marshall's estate did not have the constitutional authority to do so.

The ruling affirmed an earlier 9th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that also found the award to be in error.

Smith brought her claim in bankruptcy court following Marshall's death in 1994, after discovering that her deceased spouse had not provided for her in his will, having left all his money instead to his son. That son has since died, as did Smith in 2007, and the two estates have been battling since.

It is still not clear whether the Court's ruling brings the matter to a complete closure, since, as Smiths' lawyer notes, "there are other aspects to the case in other courts that will continue to be finalized."

Related Resource: NPR, "Supreme Court Rules Against Anna Nicole Smith's Estate" June 23, 2011

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