Legal experts tell TheWrap who would be entitled to the family fortune following Brown’s death
Updated on Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 8:45 p.m.
Her untimely death came after she was found face-down and unresponsive in a bathtub at her Georgia home on Jan. 31, and spent months receiving medical care. Brown was the sole beneficiary of Houston’s fortune when the music legend died in 2012.
For insight into the possible financial scenarios that could play out following Brown’s death, TheWrap spoke with an attorney who has reviewed a copy of Houston’s will, as well as a Los Angeles tax lawyer well-versed in dealing with celebrity clients and large estates.
Whitney’s Last Will and Testament
Attorney Bruce H. Gaynes, of Georgia-based Kitchens Kelley Gaynes, P.C., has reviewed a copy of Houston’s will and explained its parameters. Drafted about 20 years ago, the will named Bobbi Kristina sole heir to the estate. But instead of inheriting Houston’s fortune all at once, the will stipulated that Bobbi Kristina would receive the money in a series of payments over nine years: 10 percent at age 21, a 30 percent distribution at 25 and the remainder at age 30.
Bobbi Kristina, therefore, had only received the first payment in the distribution plan. Houston’s will stipulates that “if Bobbi Kristina were to die unmarried, without children of her own and had left no will and testament of her own, the estate would be divided among Whitney’s living relatives,” Gaynes explained.
Those relatives are listed as Whitney’s mother Emily “Cissy” Houston, and her brothers Michael and Gary, according to Gaynes. Whitney’s father John is listed as well, but he died in 2003.
“Robert Brown is also listed,” Gaynes said of Bobbi Kristina’s father Bobby Brown, “but their divorce … would nullify his claim to the estate.”
The Houston estate, which is reported to be at least $20 million, is difficult to define. While rumors of financial trouble plagued Whitney in her final days, music royalties have poured in since her death.
Houston has also sold countless records worldwide, not to mention greatest hits compilations and re-releases in the wake of her death. Other items in the estate include property, jewelry, clothing and cars, according to media reports.
Bobby Brown‘s Paternal Claims?
Whether or not Bobbi Kristina had her own will and testament is key to determining what, if anything, Bobby Brown could inherit from his daughter. Gaynes said another important detail in the saga is that the only money in Bobbi Kristina’s own estate is what she’d already received, plus any additional income.
“There could be up to 90 percent of Whitney’s estate left unpaid, as she doesn’t get another payment until 25,” Gaynes said before Brown’s death.
But it is unlikely that any of the remaining money would go to Bobbi Kristina’s father, according to Los Angeles-based tax attorney Bruce Givner of Givner & Kaye law firm, which specializes in estate planning and asset protection.
“He has no claim unless Houston’s estate plan names him as a contingent beneficiary,” said Givner. “He would not be a participant. He is probably irrelevant.”
Nick Gordon and a Social Media “Marriage”
Nick Gordon, Bobbi Kristina’s live-in boyfriend before she fell ill, is in a similar if not worse scenario than Brown. Despite repeated social media proclamations that he and Bobbi Kristina were husband and wife, an attorney representing Bobby Brown has said they never wed.
Gordon’s only legitimate claim to anything Bobbi Kristina left behind is to produce a valid marriage certificate. That would make him her next of kin — thus entitling him to her current assets — but not the remainder of Whitney’s estate.
But the reality of a legal marriage between Gordon and Bobbi Kristina is unlikely, given that he was prohibited from even visiting her in the hospital. Were they man and wife, the Houston and Brown families would have been unable to prevent him from seeing her.
A wild card in landing Gordon the entirety of Bobbi Kristina’s current assets would be if her legal team had drafted a will and testament naming him as her heir, Givner explained.
But when asked how often he has encountered a 20-something with an estate plan, Givner said, “never.”