J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Untimely death raises interesting will and estate questions

Music fans in Polk County likely remember singer Whitney Houston's soaring and emotionally-charged voice. Although she died a few years ago, her remarkable singing legacy lives on. Recently, her fans were reminded of the sadness of Houston's abrupt death through the tragic death of her only daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, who was just 22-years-old.

Kristina's death raises interesting legal questions regarding the distribution of her assets, as well as the assets from Houston's estate. When Houston died, her will left her entire estate in a trust for the benefit of her daughter. The trust was designed to distribute Houston's estate, which was estimated to be about $20 million, in three installments to Bobbi Kristina. She received 10 percent of the estate when she turned 21; she would have received another 30 percent of the estate at age 25; and Brown would have gotten the remainder of Houston's estate when she turned 30.

Because of this way that Houston's will designated the distribution of her estate through the trust, Bobbi Kristina had only received 10 percent of the estimated $20 million estate at the time of her death. Thus, the biggest lingering questions are what happens to the assets that Brown received, and what happens to the other 90 percent of Houston's estate.

Houston's will provided that if her daughter died without having left a will, and had no husband or children of her own, the estate would go to Houston's mother and her two brothers. What is less clear, however, is what will happen to the 10 percent of the estate that Bobbi Kristina had already received.

Brown's father, from whom Houston divorced in 2007, is still alive. Therefore, despite not being eligible to receive any of Houston's estate, he would inherit the 10 percent of the estate that Bobbi Kristina had already received. The only other wrinkle in the case is that Brown publicly stated that she had married her boyfriend. If he can prove that they were legally married, then the boyfriend turned husband would be entitled to inherit a share of the assets that Bobbi Kristina had at the time of her death.

Although most families do not have an estate the size of Houston's, will contests and other legal fighting can arise under many different circumstances following a person's death. Thorough planning and will administration is, of course, the best way to help avoid these kinds of legal issues.

Source: WealthManagement.com, "Bobbi Kristina Brown's Death Leaves Whitney Houston's Estate in Limbo," Anna Sulkin, July 28, 2015

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