We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again.  A “rich and famous” person passes away and their Last Will and Testament ends up on the internet.  Well, the most recent one is Whitney Houston.  As reported in this Forbes.com article, her Will was recently filed with the Atlanta probate court and is now available to everyone via the internet.

I recommend reading the article in its entirety to get a good feel for what Ms. Houston did that was good and what was bad, from an estate planning perspective.  I’m not going to reproduce the article or Will here (although I do have a copy of it), but I want to comment on a few key items:

  • She had only a Will, not a living trust.  You can be the judge, but I think this is a BIG mistake because now we can see everything about who will be doing what and receiving what regarding her estate plan.  Privacy is a difficult thing to come by even if you’re not “rich and famous.”  Ms. Houston certainly did her daughter and other family no favors by not avoiding probate.  On a side note, remember that just having a trust isn’t enough . . . you need a fully funded trust.
  • Her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, will eventually receive everything when she is 30 years old.  Each family is different, but I don’t know many families who would want a child or other family member receiving millions of dollars at 30 years old.  Besides having a living trust, Ms. Houston could have structured the trust in such a way that it would benefit Bobbi Kristina for her entire life, but was not susceptible to the attacks of creditors, predators (scammers), lawsuits, and divorce.  She could have created a real treasure chest for her daughter.
  • There is no mention of any “intangible wealth.”  These would be things like letters to her daughter, recorded conversations of her feelings, hopes, wishes and dream, or stories about cherished items she owned.  Of course that doesn’t mean she didn’t do it . . . but the lack of it in the conversation helps serve as a reminder that your values, insights, stories and experiences are your most valuable treasure.  Capturing them for your family is truly leaving a lasting legacy.

What do you think about the article or my comments?  Please share your thoughts by way of comment on this post.

 Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and business planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate and asset protection planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses and pet planning.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.