The US Supreme Court has ruled against Anna Nicole Smith's heirs, bringing an end to their US$88 million claim to the estate of the late J. Howard Marshall II.
Marshall met Anna Nicole, a former playboy playmate, in a Houston strip club, and the two were wed in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. Marshall died the following year on August 4 after only 14 months of marriage to Smith; he failed to include her in his trust or will.
Smith challenged the will, claiming that her deceased husband promised to leave her more than $300 million in addition to the cash and gifts he gave her 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.
Since then the case has been scattered over multiple jurisdictions in Louisiana, Texas, California and eventually in 2006 up to the Supreme Court, which allowed Smith the right to try and collect on the inheritance by sending the case back to the courts.
In 2010 however, 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, Pierce Marshall, and nothing to Smith, a decision that has been upheld by the federal appeals court in a 5-4 vote.
The legal case began more than 15 years ago and many of the story's principal protagonists have died (Pierce passed away unexpectedly in 2006 and Anna herself died from a drug overdose in 2007), which further complicated the case that reached the highest US court.
The ruling, which was a huge victory for Marshall's heirs, was important because it decided that the bankruptcy courts did not have constitutional authority to rule outside of a bankruptcy court on a state law counterclaim.
"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.