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Real Lessons to be Learned from Anna Nicole Smith

The Anna Nicole Smith story is one that continues to come up. Still, behind the Hollywood intrigue, the gossip and criminal charges, there are some very real lessons to be learned from it.

As Sharon Epperson and Richa Naik point out on CNBC, those lessons revolve mostly around financial planning.

When J. Howard Marshall married then 26-year-old Anna Nicole Smith in 1994 at the age of 89, most questioned the motivations of both parties. When Marshall died the following year, Smith was shocked to learn that she was not included in the will.

Smith claimed that Marshall had promised her a large chunk of his estate, but without such a promise in writing, the court could do little with her testimony.

After years of courtroom battles, continuing even after Smith's death, many thousands of dollars have been spent to little effect.

In any marriage, the surviving spouse is not automatically guaranteed a stake in the deceased's estate. A carefully planned will can account for just about everything. More importantly, in regards to this case, just about anyone can be written out of a will as well.

One of Marshall's sons, J. Howard Marshall III, toiled for years to overturn his exclusion from his father's will. Parallel to Smith's petitions, he too has been unsuccessful in overturning the plans laid out in the late billionaire's will.

Estate planning came up again following Smith's death, with her infant daughter essentially up for grabs due to a lack of documentation by Smith as to the child's father or a desired guardian.

One of the most important lessons in this story is that one should never take things for granted. If it is not clearly laid out in writing, then it can - and most times will - be contested. It also pays to know what your spouse's plans are and vice versa. Laying your cards on the table, or asking to see the cards, can save surprise and court costs down the line.

An extreme example to be sure, Smith's story is still a cautionary one for those putting off estate planning.

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