Learning From Celebrity Mistakes: The Case of the Houston Estate

English: Whitney Houston talking to the audien...

The premature death of six-time Grammy winner Whitney Houston should serve as a somber reminder that wills not only need to be created, but updated every few years. As estate planner Andy Mayoras points out, “Celebrity stories like this are a great educational tool to share with clients and highlight what should be done, what was done wrong, and what was done right.”

According to the Investment News, Houston’s will named daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown as the main beneficiary. Surprisingly, Houston drafted her will in 1993 – while still married to Bobby Brown – and never updated it. The will specifies that if Houston had no living children at the time of her death, her estate would pass to Bobby Brown and specified members of Houston’s family. Furthermore, Brown is named as the guardian for their daughter Bobbi Kristina.

Even if this is what Houston wanted, she should have clarified her intentions in a modified estate plan after her split with Brown. Estate plans should be routinely updated after major life events such as divorce, death of a beneficiary, or birth.

Also interesting is that Houston’s will created a testamentary trust for her daughter. A testamentary trust is created by a will, and therefore must pass through probate. By passing through probate, it becomes a public document. Had Houston wanted to keep the associated financial information private, she could have created a “living trust.” Living trusts pass outside of probate, and therefore remain hidden from the public eye.

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