Lessons From a Playboy Centerfold

Anna Nicole Smith's death has made headlines. The former Playboy centerfold's 2001 Will provided that her fortune should be solely held in trust for her son, Daniel Smith, who died last year. Ms. Smith's daughter, Dannielynn Stern, born in September 2006, was not provided for. Thus, unresolved issues include who will inherit Ms. Smith's estate and who will have custody and visitation rights with respect to Dannielynn.

What went wrong with Ms. Smith's estate plan? Here are some of the errors she made:

  • There Was No Revocable Trust. Had there been a revocable "living" trust, Ms. Smith's estate could have been administered privately, without going to court and without the headlines and media attention it received.
  • There Was No Corporate Trustee/Executor. The person who prepared the estate documents was named the executor and trustee of the beneficiary. This created a conflict of interest for the attorney. Furthermore, because there was obvious turmoil in Ms. Smith's family, it would have made sense to name a corporate trustee and executor (such as a bank).
  • Contingencies Were Overlooked. The beneficiary named in Ms. Smith's Will died, and no contingent beneficiary (such as later born children) was named. Properly prepared legal documents should always provide for the possibility that someone could die and circumstances could change.
  • Do-It-Yourself Documents. The documents were not drawn up by a full-time professional. Instead, they were prepared by Ms. Smith's boyfriend (and part-time lawyer), Howard Stern.
  • No Guardian Was Named For A Minor Child. Ms. Smith failed to nominate a guardian for her daughter in an estate plan document. This would have prevented much of the current squabbling.
  • No Funeral/Burial Instructions. Ms. Smith's estate plan should have stated whether she wanted to be buried or cremated, where she was to be interred, and who was to make other related decisions.
  • No Choice of Law Clause. The laws where Ms. Smith claimed residency determines many of these unsettled legal issues. Smith had a home in the Bahamas, yet the current probate proceeding is in Florida. Thus, there will be a battle over which court has jurisdiction and what law applies.

Are you going to make the same mistakes as Anna Nicole? If you are concerned about how well your estate plan might hold up, contact a reputable estate planning attorney. It could make life easier for your next-of-kin.

Brian Starr is the founder of the Phoenix law firm Starr Law Firm, PLC You may contact Brian at 866-920-0549. For more information, go to www.starrlawfirm.net.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is made available for general informational purposes only, and is not intended to constitute specific legal advice or to be a substitute for advice from qualified counsel. For that reason, you should not act or refrain from acting based on any information in this article without first obtaining advice from professional counsel qualified in the applicable subject matter and jurisdictions.