Whitney Houston’s and Daughter’s Estates Embroiled in Disputes
By Kent Berk on December 16th, 2015 in Estate Litigation, Probate
The death of Whitney Houston was a devastating loss to the music and acting communities, and the world. The talented singer was found dead in February of 2012. Trouble regarding the singer’s estate began brewing almost immediately. Her ex-husband, Bobby Brown, and Houston’s family were not getting along. Brown left Houston’s funeral. Concerns circulated that Brown would use the couple’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in order to gain access to Houston’s estate. It is speculated that Whitney Houston’s estate is valued between $12 million and $20 million.
Unfortunately, Bobbi Kristina was struggling with her own battle with substance abuse at the time of her mother’s death. Family members worried that if Houston left her assets to Bobbi Kristina, Bobbi Kristina would not be responsible enough to handle it all, or that father Bobby Brown would attempt to gain conservatorship over Bobbi Kristina in an effort to get his hands on the money. In fact, according to James Alexander of the Express, shortly after Houston’s death, Bobby Brown did express interest in obtaining conservatorship of his daughter if she did not clean up and change her life.
It turns out that Whitney Houston did take some proper steps in her estate planning. For example, she placed restrictions in her 1993 will regarding Bobbi Kristina’s inheritance. In the Fourth Article of her will, Whitney sets guidelines for disbursement of funds. Separate trusts were created for each Beneficiary, including Bobbi Kristina. Houston’s will dictates that, upon reaching the age of 21 years, the Beneficiary will receive one-tenth of the principal, and at age 25 years, the Beneficiary will receive one-sixth of the principal. Upon turning 30 years old, the Beneficiary will then receive the entire remaining principal. Houston also made a provision in her will that allowed Trustees to make distributions of income and principal, using their discretion, which would serve the best interests of the Beneficiary. Houston suggests these distributions be made for special circumstances, such as educational requirements, birth of a child, marriage, purchase of a home, or commencement of a new business enterprise.
It is clear that Whitney cared deeply for her family and made the effort to provide for them after her death. However, family members claim that Houston’s true wishes were for Bobbi Kristina not to receive an inheritance until she was older than specified in the will. Unfortunately, Houston failed to update her will, which was close to 20 years old at the time of her death. Thus, while Houston’s family fought in court to delay payouts to Bobbi Kristina until she was older, the legal dispute was eventually settled due to the fact that the will was never updated.
Sadly, nearly three years after her mother’s death, Bobbi Kristina was found unconscious in her bathtub. Six months later, Bobbi Kristina was removed from life support and passed away. Her troubles with substance abuse seem to have gotten the better of her, just like her mother. The family feud was ongoing at Bobbi Kristina’s funeral, where her aunt was escorted from the church after being accused by family members of selling a photo of Bobbi Kristina lying in her casket. According to The Week, both sides of the family deny selling the photograph, but the feud marred Bobbi Kristina’s funeral, just as her mother’s funeral was overshadowed by family disputes.
Was Whitney Houston’s estate plan to blame for her daughter’s death? If she had updated her will to reflect her changed intentions for Bobbi Kristina, could the family feuding have been prevented? Were Houston’s family members right when they fought to delay Bobbi Kristina from receiving her inheritance? While it cannot be said for certain that the inheritance money led to Bobbi Kristina’s death, Whitney’s failure to update her estate planning may have played a crucial role in the tragedy and disputes that have unfolded since her own death. This unfortunate situation reminds us of the importance of estate planning. Probate disputes may be avoided with relatively little effort and expense.
If you have questions regarding probate, will or trust disputes, please contact us. We would be happy to assist with any of your questions and set up a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.