15 Financial Lessons from the Demise of Anna Nicole Smith (Yes, I?m Serious)

You’d think it was a fairy tale, rags-to-riches story if you had heard of Anna Nicole Smith for the first time a few months ago. The high school dropout and former waitress shot to fame 15 years ago because of her (in)famous association with Playboy magazine, her ample physical assets and her slight resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. Today though, the tables have turned. The sultry siren’s untimely demise at the age of 36, under circumstances shrouded in mystery, has made her the talk of the town again. But for not the right reasons.

P1Her alleged drug abuse, her erratic and eccentric lifestyle, the death of her 20-year-old son, the birth of a daughter just before, and a "commitment ceremony" on a yacht with her lawyer ensured that she remained constantly in the limelight in the months leading to her end. Samuel Levenson showed his immense wisdom when he said, "You must learn from the mistakes of others, you can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself." And we start with the lessons we can learn from Anna Nicole’s tragic death at an age when most people are just starting to live.

1. Make your rich, octogenarian husband sign a prenup: Marrying J. Howard Marshall was a shrewd decision, but Anna Nicole screwed up in not protecting her interests. When you hook up with a billionaire in the twilight of his life, and you’re hardly out of your twenties with a long life ahead of you, you know you’re in for a long, legal wrangle with his heirs who’ll try every trick in the book to get you thrown out of the reckoning for his estate. Get him to sign a pre-nuptial agreement with your rights clearly stated. 

2. Hire a good lawyer: Howard K. Stern may have other skills that were appealing to Anna Nicole, but look at the parody of a will that he drew for her. The testament in question is the subject of scrutiny at various law schools, as a primer on what not to do when drawing up your last will and testament. If your lawyer’s no good, you open up a can of legal worms for your heirs to deal with when you’re dead and gone. And yeah, it’s best your lawyer have no personal ties with you ? keep it a strictly business relationship.

3. Draw up a proper will: A good will should not only list all those who benefit, but also those who do not, and what their relationship is to you. If you’re rich, there will be people laying claim to your estate, whether you include them in your will or not. Clearly outline who gets what and how much.

4. Provide for contingencies in your will: On to the actual details of the will. Anna Nicole had no way of predicting that she would outlive her 20-year-old son, Daniel Wayne Smith, from her first teenage marriage. So, she named him her sole heir without providing for a situation in which he dies before her. But then, the unexpected always happens, which is why you should make sure your will includes provisions for what has to be done when your heirs pass away, before or after you, in case they don’t have the time or foresight to draw up a will of their own.

5. Don?t procrastinate: One article in Anna Nicole’s will is puzzling, especially considering she had more than 9 months to ratify it ? "I have intentionally omitted to provide for my spouse and other heirs, including future spouses and children and other descendents now living and those hereafter born or adopted…" This effectively leaves Dannielyn Hope Marshal Stern, the daughter born five months before her death, without any claim to her mother’s great wealth. Anna Nicole should have included Dannielyn in her will after her son passed away. Because she neglected to do so, there are numerous legal problems relating to her will.

6. Beware of estranged relatives: It’s a well-known fact of life ? when you strike gold, the world and its cousins turn up to claim their share of the pie. Anna Nicole’s estranged mother, Virgie Mae Tabers, turned up to take possession of her granddaughter after her daughter?s death. The catch ? the possible valuable legacy that the child will inherit if the courts rule in Anna Nicole’s favor in the Marshall estate case, and if her will is contested successfully. For now though, the court will naturally apportion a certain amount for the upkeep of little Dannielyn, money that anyone would like to get their hands on.

7. Establish paternity for your children: In Anna Nicole’s case, her numerous affairs have brought out four possible fathers for her daughter. While her sister claims that Dannielyn is the product of the late J. Howard Marshall’s frozen sperm, Howard K. Stern is also claiming to be the girl’s father. Others on the list are Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband Prince Frederic von Anhalt and former boyfriend of Smith, Larry Birkhead. The wealth that the baby may possibly inherit may be a strong motivation for these contenders, a situation that would not have risen if only Anna had clearly stated who the father was.

8. Say NO to Drugs: They’re a costly habit, and they KILL you. The deaths of Anna Nicole and her son ought to be enough to hammer home this point.

9. Keep your head firmly screwed on even when you become famous overnight: Her great body and sultry looks aside, Anna Nicole Smith obviously didn’t have anything going for her. If she had used her head and secured her investments right from the time she struck deals with Playboy and Guess jeans, she would not have left behind the mess she did. The sudden glare of the spotlight left her unable to handle the fame and fortune with a level head, leading to poor financial decisions.

10. Document your dealings: A mansion in the Bahamas was the subject of dispute because of the lack of proper documentation. Two contrasting stories emerge ? while the owner, Ben Thompson, former boyfriend of Anna Nicole and real estate developer, claims that he loaned her the money to buy the property, the lady in question claims that the mansion was a gift from him. Another confusing scenario left behind by the former playmate.

11. But not your misdemeanors: Don’t leave behind proof of your indiscretions: So you won a few favors by trading some of your own. You certainly don’t need to offer proof that you obtained citizenship in the Bahamas by offering yourself to the country’s immigration minister, Shane Gibson. Following claims that Smith and Stern were hiding in the Bahamas to avoid paternity testing for her daughter, the photos of Anna Nicole and Gibson lying in an embrace (albeit fully clothed) on a bed didn’t do anything to repair her reputation. 

12. Appoint guardians for you minor children: Again, an offshoot of the will issue. With fathers popping up in regular intervals from the woodwork, it falls to the court to appoint a guardian for Anna Nicole’s daughter unless a paternity test determines the real dad. And with millions of dollars in the mix, there’s likely going to be more challengers showing up.

13. Set up trusts for your assets: This strategy helps address what happens to your assets if you are suddenly indisposed or dead.

14. Leave letters of instruction with close friends and relatives: While not as binding as a will, these letters are proof that you wish things be done a certain way after your demise. Friends and family members who respect your wishes will see that they’re carried out to the letter.

15. And finally, some advice for the search engine marketers: Be prepared for the surge in Internet traffic when something untoward happens to a celebrity whose name relates to the keywords you’ve purchased. You’ll be left holding the bill for thousands of unconverted clicks if you’re not smart enough. There are some clever ones, like People magazine who linked their ad to a customized page with the latest news on Anna Nicole’s death.

If you enjoyed this article, please bookmark it at del.icio.us »

One Response to “15 Financial Lessons from the Demise of Anna Nicole Smith (Yes, I?m Serious)”

  1. Nice post.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>