Anna Nicole Smith was 26 years old when she married 89 year old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall of Houston, Texas. Marshall died 14 months later. One of his sons sued Anna Nicole, claiming that she was not entitled to any of Marshall’s estate.
16 years of litigation ensued in state and federal courts.
Cases like that led Texas to pass a law in 2009 allowing a court to declare a marriage void after the death of one of the spouses.
Under Estates Code Section 123.102, a court can void a marriage of the decedent if the marriage is less than 3 years old.
The court has to find that, on the day of the wedding, the decedent lacked the mental capacity to consent to the marriage and to understand the nature of the marriage ceremony. The court then has to determine if, after the wedding day, the decedent ever regained enough mental capacity to recognize the marriage relationship and then did actually recognize it.
If the court declares the marriage void, then the other party to the marriage is not considered a “surviving spouse.”
We’ll never know if such a law would have made a difference in the Smith-Marshall lawsuit. In fact, there are no recorded cases under the 2009 law. Give it some time – May-December marriages are pretty common.