In a prior blog post, I discussed the lawsuit by Whitney Houston's step-mother against her. Barbara Houston sued Whitney trying to recover life insurance proceeds left to Whitney by her father. Barbara claimed the insurance was supposed to pay off a mortgage on her house that Whitney held. Barbara argued Whitney failed to turn over the money or release the mortgage.
Court records at the time showed that the parties were negotiating to try to settle. Apparently those efforts filed. In fact, Whitney not only defended the claims filed by Barbara, but she counter-sued as well.
Whitney claims that she lent her father lots of money, and even paid him as an employee. Whitney says the insurance was paid to her to repay other sums of money, not the mortgage. In fact, Whitney's counter-suit demands repayment of the mortgage, with interest, for a sum of more than 1.6 million dollars.
But what is most interesting about this case isn't the suit or counter-suit; rather it's the way Whitney chose to air her grievances against her "step-mother" in a public lawsuit. Her counterclaim includes the following statements:
- Barbara Houston began a romantic relationship with Whitney's father, John, in 1987, when Barbra was 27 and John was 67.
- John was still married to Whitney's mother at the time and did not file for divorce from her until December, 1990.
- When the couple began their romantic relationship, Barbara was a single mother, working as a "domestic services custodial care worker", or in other words, a cleaning woman.
- In fact, the pair met when John hired Barbara to clean his residence.
- Barbara stopped working as a cleaning woman when she and her child moved in with John, in 1987.
- The two were married in 1992 -- just after John's divorce from Whitney's mother was finalized.
Wow -- that's a lot of dirty laundry to air in a lawsuit that Whitney and her attorneys knew would be read by the media. Whitney just as easily could have counter-sued without making any of these facts public.
You can read the counter-suit document for yourself, by downloading this (and yes, it's safe) - Download Whitney Houston counterclaim.
Clearly there is a lot of bitterness and resentment harbored by Whitney against her father's widow. These very emotions drive many legal battles in second marriage situations, where the spouse of the elderly or deceased individual fights against adult children from a prior marriage. It happens in guardianship disputes, will contests, trust battles, as well as challenges to gifts, joint bank accounts, and yes, life insurance.
I see it in my Michigan probate litigation practice with far too much regularity -- from the very wealthy to those families of modest means. Despite the difference in tax brackets, the emotions remain the same.
It will be interesting to see what Barbara does to fight back at Whitney. The spouses in these situations typically have just as many feelings of resentment and distrust as the children do.
Clearly my prior prediction of a quick and quiet settlement was off the mark.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+