With major legal issues undecided, Anna Nicole Smith's legacy could take years to untangle and could leave her baby daughter with millions of dollars or nothing at all.
Smith's battle over her late husband J. Howard Marshall II's oil fortune with the family of his son grinds on in Texas. And there is a pending class action suit seeking unspecified damages against Smith and TrimSpa Inc., alleging the company's marketing of a weight-loss pill with Smith as spokeswoman was false and misleading.
Meanwhile, two men are contesting the paternity of Smith's 5-month-old daughter Dannielynn, with an emergency hearing in the case planned for Friday in Los Angeles.
Experts say the custody decision could determine the child's inheritance.
Attorney Howard K. Stern, Smith's most recent companion, is listed on Dannielynn's birth certificate as her father. If it is determined he is the biological father and if he was legally married to Smith which has yet to be established Stern, not Dannielynn, would likely inherit Smith's estate, experts say.
Smith's former boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, says he is the girl's father.
If Smith and the biological father were not married and Smith left no will, the father and child likely would split her assets, according to Christopher Cline, an estate planning lawyer with the firm of Holland and Knight.
"It's a really large legal quagmire," said Cline, who enumerated some of the many questions hanging in the balance.
"I've never seen a case with more moving parts," he said, comparing the legal morass in its complexity with unraveling the estate of billionaire Howard Hughes albeit with less money involved.
Cline outlined a series of crucial questions that range from the paternity of the child to Smith's country of residency and, most importantly, whether she had a will. If there was a will, Cline said, questions would arise about where it was drafted and signed. If she did not have a will, the laws of her country of residence would apply.
She had been living in the Bahamas recently and gave birth to her daughter there in September.
Other questions that will need to be answered are whether she was married at the time of her death, and how her death affects the lawsuit still pending against her late husband's estate.
Experts in Texas, where Smith fought for millions of dollars in inheritance, said the court battles will go on.
"The claims will survive to her estate," said Charles W. "Rocky" Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor who has followed the complicated series of lawsuits involving Smith and the family of her dead husband.
"In criminal cases like we had with Ken Lay, where the defendant died, it was over," he said. "But in civil cases where the claim is for money, your estate and the heirs you have from the estate are able to continue the litigation in the name of the representatives of the estate."
E. Pierce Marshall, her late husband's son who had been fighting her over his father's estate, died in June. But the Marshall family vowed to continue the fight.
Family lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan of Los Angeles, who has handled many celebrity paternity cases, said he believes Stern initially will receive custody of the child because he is listed on the birth certificate.
"The paternity test should be expedited," he said, "because if he is not the bio dad he has no rights to custody. But I predict there will be a will saying that Howard K. Stern is the father."
He added that another complication could arise if Stern was the lawyer who drew up the will and may be listed as the executor.
"By law, he can't be both the executor and the beneficiary," Kaplan said.
The Smith saga has been filled with so many deaths, Kaplan said, that lawyers are beginning to talk about a curse on the litigation. Just five months ago, Smith's 20-year-old son Daniel died suddenly in the Bahamas in what was believed to be a drug-related death.
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