Estate of Whitney Houston: Rich Woman, Poor Planning

Have you done any estate planning? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. In fact, Whitney Houston did not draft a will until 6.5 years after her marriage to Bobby Brown. Bobbi Kristina was one month shy of six years old.

Houston’s Estate Plan

When Houston did, she executed a very simple 16-page will (a legal document that names individuals who will receive your assets after your death). Whitney made provisions to have her funeral expenses paid and then assigned her estate to her living child(ren). She included specific instructions on how the estate was to be distributed: one-tenth distributed at 21, one-sixth at 25 and the balance to be distributed at 30.

Houston wisely contemplated the possibility of not having any living children. In that instance, he left the balance of her estate to the following family members:

  • Cissy Houston (mother)
  • John Houston (father)
  • Bobby Brown (husband), and
  • Michael & Gary Houston (brothers).

Initially, she named her attorney, Sheldon Platt, as her executor (which raises some red flags) and Mr. Platt and her sister-in-law Donna Houston as co-trustees of the trusts created by her will. A later codicil (an amendment to the will) replaced the attorney with Cissy as executor and Michael as co-trustee.

Houston’s Surprising Estate Choices

First, it’s amazing that someone with Whitney’s fame, fortune and status would have executed a will in the first place rather than a living trust. A will, unlike a trust, becomes public record.

Second, the will was outdated. Whitney and Bobby divorced April 24, 2007 and yet her will, providing for Bobby Brown, was never changed. Perhaps Whitney intentionally left Bobby in the will? Well in most states, an ex-spouse cannot inherit under a will after divorce. Notwithstanding state laws, the better practice would have been for her to update her will following the divorce to avoid any potential ambiguity as to the star’s wishes.

Finally, and similar to the second point, Whitney’s will named Bobby as the guardian of person and property of Bobbi Kristina. This may or not be what Whitney intended but, given Whitney’s unfortunate and untimely passing, we can’t ask what she intended.

In the end, Whitney’s outdated will is not totally fatal and in that way, “it’s not right—but it’s okay.”

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