Nation's fourth wealthiest woman revealed through estate drama

Sacramento readers may not know the name of the fourth-wealthiest woman in the country, but the wealth she has come to possess has certainly had seen its share of controversy in the courtroom as well as the tabloids over the years.

The assets of Elaine Tettemer Marshall are primarily comprised of her 15% stake in Koch Industries, the second-largest privately-held company in the US. The stake was part of her inheritance from her husband Pierce Marshall, who died in 2006, but it was almost not to be.

Pierce Marshall was the son of Howard Marshall, a wealthy industrialist best known for marrying Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith at the age of 89. After Howard's death, Smith sued the industrialist's son, claiming he had illegally interfered with her right to spousal support and inheritance. In 2000, a court awarded the former playmate roughly $475 million in damages.

However, due to a long and complex series of court hearings on the California court's jurisdiction over the matter, which culminated in US Supreme Court hearings in 2006 and 2011, the playmate never saw any of the court-awarded money.

In 2006, before his death and when it appeared the family fortune may be slipping into the playmate's hands, the industrialist's son set up a trust known as a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, or GRAT, naming his wife as the trustee. He also named his wife as the beneficiary of his will. The GRAT, which contained most of the corporate interests, allowed the husband to disclaim ownership of those assets for the purpose of calculating the value of his estate.

There are many complex trusts available for people seeking to transfer assets to loved ones without unnecessary taxation or liability. Whether one is transferring billions or thousands, an experienced trusts and estates attorney can help find the right trust instrument to suit each unique situation.

Source: Businessweek.com "America's fourth-richest woman unveiled with Koch stake," by David de Jong, September 16, 2012

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