Whitney Houston’s Will Offers Valuable Lessons

Multiple news sources revealed the details of the late Whitney Houston’s will. Los Angeles readers may wonder why her will was made public, when the details of many other celebrities remain private. The answer lies in the fact that Whitney Houston had a will, which is subject to probate and, thereby, open to the public. A news report revealed that Houston’s will is available for viewing on a TV show’s website. As expected, the singer’s will leaves everything to her only daughter.

Because her daughter is 18-years-old, legally an adult, she could have inherited the entire state at once. Instead, the singer’s will called for the creation of a type of trust called a testamentary trust. Rather than a living trust, that would have been in place while the singer was still alive and would not have gone through probate, Houston’s will called for a trust to be created in the event of her death. According to the trust, the daughter will receive a portion of the estate when she turns 21, another portion at age 25 and the balance at age 30.

According to sources, Houston’s will was lacking in the financial security that could have been provided by more sophisticated estate planning. Houston’s mother was named as the executor of the will, however, when the will went through probate, the probate judge changed the executor to Houston’s sister-in-law.

One of the important considerations of estate planning is the need to update it on a regular basis. When relationships or financial situations change, the estate planning should reflect those changes. In Whitney’s case, her will was created in 1993, with an amendment known as a codicil, in 2000 and in 2004. She did not update her will after her divorce from Bobby Brown in 2007.

According to the news report, her estate is potentially vulnerable to challenges from Brown. Because the will called for Brown to be appointed their daughter’s guardian in the event of Houston’s death, Brown could attempt to seize control of the estate through a conservatorship if his daughter can be proven not competent or at risk of harm.

There are important lessons to be learned from the singer’s untimely passing. One of those lessons is the value of updated estate planning after important life changes, such as a divorce.

Source: Forbes, “Whitney Houston’s Will Was Far From Perfect,” Daniel and Andy Mayoras, March 15, 2012