Lessons From Whitney Houston’s Estate Plan

A great reminder.

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The current legal battle going on over Whitney Houston’s estate is a great reminder to review your estate plan regularly. Whitney’s will was written in 1993 and leaves her $20 million estate in trust to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who is currently 19 years old. The actual value of her estate will depend on future sales. The trust provides that 10% will be distributed to Bobbi Kristina at age 21, one-sixth at age 25, and the balance at age 30. Whatever royalties and other assets the estate now has, or will earn in the future, pass on to her through the trust.

Would Whitney want her 19 year old daughter to gain control of $20 million? Could she have foreseen this possibility when the will was written 20 years ago? Her mother, Cissy Houston, and sister-in-law, Marion Houston, filed a petition in court to change the terms of the will. They want to delay when Bobbi Kristina receives her inheritance in order to protect her.

Cissy and Marion allege that Whitney’s true intent would be to make sure that Bobbi Kristina’s long-term maintenance and care were protected, as well as that of Bobbi Kristina’s future children. Given the smaller pay-outs in the next several years, it appears that Cissy and Marion are worried that Bobbi Kristina won’t be able to protect herself and this money, even after she receives the bulk of it at age 30. They are asking the court to change the distributions in a manner consistent with what Whitney would have wanted.

Exactly what Whitney would have wanted is hard to say. She should have updated her documents to address these changes in the 20-years since she signed her will. There is no guarantee that this Petition will work. Whitney had almost 20 years to change the will if her intent changed. If her intent was to protect Bobbi Kristina beyond age 30, as Cissy and Marion believe, then Whitney should not have left it to chance.

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have the income I want?

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