Could Bobbi Kristina Brown have been better protected by Whitney Houston's estate?

Estate planning lawyers say 19-year-old will left pop star's daughter unprotected

Jul 28, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

By Liz Skinner

Pop star Whitney Houston could have done more to protect her now-deceased daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown if she had ever edited the will that she created while she was pregnant with her only child, estate planning lawyers said.

Ms. Houston's will was 19 years old at the time the 48-year-old singer was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub in February 2012. Ms. Brown was 18 when her mother died and became the main beneficiary of Ms. Houston's estate, reportedly worth about $20 million.

Ms. Brown received 10% of her inheritance when she turned 21 in March 2014. She was due to receive more at age 25 and the balance at age 30, according to estate planning lawyer Andy Mayoras.

However, six months ago Ms. Brown was found unresponsive in her bathtub in Georgia and on Sunday she died at age 22.

(More: Cost of settling estates rising as states hunt for more revenue)

“Ms. Houston's will left all the money to any children she had through a trust, but it was never specifically set up for Bobbi Kristina and that's one of the problems,” said Mr. Mayoras, co-author of “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights” (Wise Circle Books, 2009). “The concern is that her mother may not have wanted her to get the money so young, but the court has to follow whatever the will says.”

Ms. Houston should have updated her will to make specific provisions for her daughter based on what she felt Ms. Brown could handle, he said.

“Ms. Houston may not have wanted Bobbi Kristina to receive money at 21 and possibly be subject to influence from unsavory types,” Mr. Mayoras said.

During the months since Ms. Brown was found in her Atlanta-area home incapacitated, a court-appointed conservator was named to be responsible for Ms. Brown's assets. That conservator, Bedelia C. Hargrove, filed a civil lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court on June 24 that alleged Ms. Brown's boyfriend Nick Gordon beat her and stole thousands of dollars from Ms. Brown's bank account.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Gordon, who was never married to Ms. Brown despite the couple referring to each other as spouses in social media.

“It makes you wonder what would have happened if her mother had done a better job with the will and left her money in a way that left her more protected,” Mr. Mayoras said.

The money trail
Much speculation centers around Bobbie Kristina's $20 million estate. She was sole beneficiary of her mother's estate, but had received only a portion of her trust, with the rest to have been disbursed on her 25th and 30th birthdays. Here is a look at some of the other players in the tussle over the money.

A revocable living trust is what most people with substantial assets create so it can be tailored to address all different circumstances and needs of beneficiaries, such as limits on when they can get the money, what they can do with it, etc., he said. The details of such a trust also can be kept private, unlike a will that's a public document.

Ms. Houston also did not update her will after her 2007 divorce from singer Bobby Brown, but by virtue of their divorce he will not be eligible to inherit the six-time Grammy winner's fortunes. Her will stipulates that her mother and two brothers should equally inherit her estate if she has no living children or grandchildren.

Bruce D. Steiner, a tax and estate planning attorney at Kleinberg Kaplan Wolff Cohen, said Ms. Houston's will should not have stipulated that Ms. Brown's trust pay out the money by age 30.

“She should have reviewed her will over the course of 19 years,” Mr. Steiner said. “At age 30, not everyone is ready to receive $20 million, particularly those who are in the public eye.”

In addition to possible immaturity issues of a 30 year old, by paying the money out it becomes subject to her estate for estate tax purposes and subject to her creditors, Mr. Steiner said. In divorce situations in some states, inheritances can be thrown into the pot of assets to be divvied up, he said.


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