Nothing is certain but death and taxes, and where those two intersect — wills and the estates people leave behind when they pass — there’s supposed to be some certainty as well. Wills are supposed to be final. But unsurprisingly, sometimes heirs and potential heirs don’t see them that way. A $100 million estate left to the “wrong” people can cause court battles over estates that can last years.
Not every famous estate fight is over money, though. One notorious battle that made headlines around the world was over what should happen to the body, particularly the head, of famous baseball slugger Ted Williams.
Here’s a snapshot of a couple of the most notorious cases.
1. Anna Nicole Smith versus J. Howard Marshall II
Value of estate: $1.6 billion
Amount contested: $300 million
Feuding parties: wife and son
J. Howard Marshall amassed a fortune of approximately $1.6 billion as an oil tycoon. In 1994, when Marshall was 89 years old, he married Anna Nicole Smith, a former stripper who gained fame as a Playboy Playmate. She was 62 years his junior, which prompted some people to speculate that Smith only married Marshall for his money. Smith always denied those accusations.
The marriage lasted for 14 months, ending when Marshall died. Anna Nicole Smith was completely left out of Marshall’s will, which left the majority of his fortune to his son, E. Pierce Marshall. Smith claimed that her deceased husband had promised that he would leave her half of his fortune, but that Pierce had prevented him from doing so through forgery, fraud, and false imprisonment. Smith passed away 2007. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time since 2006.
2. Brooke Astor
Value of estate: $198 million
Amount contested: N/A
Feuding parties: son and grandson
Brooke Astor was a wealthy New York City socialite and philanthropist who passed away in 2007 at the age of 105. Her only son, Anthony D. Marshall, was the executor of her $198 million estate until 2006. That year, Marshall was accused by his son, Philip Marshall, of defrauding Astor in the late stages of her life and stealing millions of dollars from her. Although Astor died, the case is ongoing. Anthony Marshall was found guilty of a number of fraud and conspiracy charges, as well as first-degree grand larceny, and was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison in 2009. The case is under appeal.
3. Ted Williams
Value of estate: N/A
Amount contested: Williams’ body
Feuding parties: three children
The circumstances surrounding baseball great Ted Williams’ will are truly bizarre. In 1996, Williams signed a will stating that he wished to be cremated and to have his ashes spread out at sea. After his death, however, the executor of his estate claimed that Williams wanted to be cryogenically frozen. Two of his children supported this action, citing a piece of paper Williams had signed in which the three all agreed to be frozen so that they would, according to an article from the AP, “be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance.” His eldest daughter fought against the disposition of his body, but gave up after running out of money. Williams is currently frozen, with his head separated from his body. His son died of leukemia in 2004 and was also frozen.
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