Answering Questions About Whitney Houston's Millions And Bobbi Kristina's Death
July 31, 2015
After a six-month coma, the life of Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, has tragically ended. Just how tragic her short life really was may not be known for some time. But the details that have emerged are nothing short of heart-wrenching, if the allegations of a recently-filed lawsuit filed on behalf of Bobbi Kristina prove to be true.
According to that lawsuit, Whitney Houston's millions were at the heart of this tragedy. But what role did they really play in Bobbi Kristina's death?
It was on January 31, 2015 that Bobbi Kristina was found unresponsive, unconscious, and face down in a bath tub. That was nearly three years from the day her mother famously drowned, also in a bathtub. Bobbi Kristina was placed into a medically-induced coma and reportedly suffered severe brain damage.
Instead of a relative, the court in charge of Bobbi Kristina’s case appointed an attorney from Atlanta, Bedelia Hargrove, to serve as her conservator. As conservator, Hargrove was able to to manage Bobbi Kristina’s finances and make financial-related decisions for her.
Court Filing Against Nick Gordon
In late June — just weeks after being appointed in that role — Hargrove started a new lawsuit on behalf of Bobbi Kristina, against Nick Gordon. The lawsuit accused Gordon of assault and battery, fraud, stalking, and more -- claiming that Nick Gordon was motivated by the millions of dollars held in trust for Bobbi Kristina through Whitney Houston's will. Specifically, Hargrove alleged that Gordon perpetrated a "scheme to benefit from her wealth" including "routinely transferring a large portion of Brown's funds" into his own bank account, without her permission.
Gordon questioned Bobbi's ability to access the trust money, and also threatened and stalked one of the trustees leading to a restraining order, the lawsuit states. Even worse, the suit alleges that Gordon once punched Bobbi Kristina in the face, knocking out a tooth, and dragged her upstairs by her hair.
Hargrove's court filing claims that Gordon engaged in a loud argument with Bobbi Kristina, which ended with her face down in the bathtub on January 31st, unresponsive, unconscious, and with a swollen mouth and another tooth knocked out. The lawsuit states that after Bobbi Kristina was placed into a medically-induced coma, Nick Gordon stole $11,000 from her bank account. Hargrove's lawsuit included claims that Gordon was guilty of assault, battery, conversion and more -- and that he should be liable for more than ten million dollars.
Now that Bobbi Kristina has died, on July 26, 2015, multiple media sources are reporting that Gordon is being investigated for the murder of Bobbi Kristina, with criminal charges expected to be filed.
Nick Gordon denies the allegations and reportedly is heartbroken over Bobbi Kristina's death. He claims that drugs and alcohol are to blame for Bobbi Kristina Brown's death, not violence. Reportedly, the initial autopsy finding might support Nick Gordon's position, although the autopsy's value in this case is questionable given how much time passed between the date Bobbi was discovered and her death.
Who Will Get Whitney Houston's Fortune Now?
Because the money can no longer pass to Bobbi Kristina, the terms of Whitney Houston's will state that any money left from Whitney Houston's estate will pass onto her two brothers and her mother. Bobby Brown was also named under the will, but his share was automatically revoked when he and Houston became divorced.
Media outlets regularly report that Whitney Houston's estate had a value of $20 million. When Houston initially died with more debt than assets, the increase in sales from Houston's songs and performances brought in the estimated $20 million sum, on top of paying the debts. While the accuracy of these figures cannot be confirmed, obviously there was a lot of money at stake in Whitney Houston's estate. And Bobbi Kristina was the sole beneficiary.
Ten percent of the estate money passed to Bobbi Kristina when she turned 21, with another sum in the neighborhood of three million scheduled for her 25th birthday. In additional, the trust established by Houston's will also specified that the rest of the money could be used for anything else the trustees felt were advisable for Bobbi Kristina, including medical care, acquiring a home, starting a new business, becoming engaged, or marrying.
Given the great expense of keeping Bobbi Kristina on life support for the last six months, and depending on how much was covered by health insurance, much of the remaining millions may have already been spent. How much is left is anyone's guess at this point.
Whitney Houston's Trustees Previously Went To Court Trying To Protect Bobbi Kristina Brown
Before this tragedy happened, there were millions available for Bobbi Kristina's needs. Initially, the named trustees -- her aunt and grandmother -- feared that Bobbi Kristina could not handle so much money at such a young age. They filed a court proceeding asking to rewrite the will based on what they felt were Whitney Houston's true intentions -- that the money be safeguarded for Bobbi Kristina until she was older. In the filing, the trustees expressed their concerns that Bobbi Kristina's well-being may be jeopardized if she was allowed to have so much money starting at the young age of 21.
While that court filing certainly seems to have been justified in hindsight, it did not work. Shortly after filing it, the trustees withdrew it. Probate courts are required to follow the terms of the actual will or trust documents, not what the person who died might have otherwise intended. So justified or not, the trustees were not able to delay distributing the money to Bobbi Kristina even though they clearly had concerns.
Would this tragedy have been adverted if Bobbi Kristina's distributions were delayed until she was older? While that's a good question, the reality is it would be very hard if not impossible to compose a trust that could completely protect someone from the type of behaviors alleged in the Hargrove lawsuit against Nick Gordon. For instance, Gordon allegedly stalked one of the trustees, leading to a restraining order against him. And even if the distribution provisions were delayed until Bobbi Kristina were older, the will language still allowed for the trustees to give her money when she needed it. The outcome may very well have been the same regardless of the timing of the mandatory distributions -- especially if Gordon is innocent of the allegations against him.
Lessons Learned From Whitney Houston's Estate
One thing is clear -- inheriting trust money at a young age can have serious negative consequences. Whitney Houston's will was done in 1993, specifying how a trust would be created after she died for any children she may have. Houston never updated the will after that and she did not create a living trust document that could have better addressed these concerns.
This is not to cast blame on Whitney Houston's will for Bobbi Kristina's death. Again, if Nick Gordon really is guilty of assault and battery that resulted in her death, as the Hargrove lawsuit alleges, that could have happened no matter what estate planning Whitney Houston had done. But clearly, Gordon was motivated by money -- according to the allegations -- and Houston's should have and could have better protected that money with improved estate planning documents.
Hopefully others can use this tragedy to remind themselves of the importance of creating and updating proper estate planning documents that help beneficiaries, instead of passing along substantial sums of money in a way that could lead to more harm than good. This lesson is important not only for those who have millions or more. Even $50,000 in the hands of a 21-year old can be problematic.
Good estate planning helps beneficiaries receive money in a manner -- and when -- it can do the most good. The tragedy of Bobbi Kristina Brown was made all the more tragic because it appears that Whitney Houston's poor estate planning played such a critical role.
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and attorneys with the Michigan law firm, Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Click here to subscribe to their e-newsletter, The Trial & Heirs Update and learn more about their book. You can reach them at [email protected]