By Jason Stern
On February 19, 2012, the greatest female vocalist of the 20thcentury was laid to rest at the age of 48. The burial followed a nationally televised funeral held at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ where mother Cissy Houston was their talented, resident gospel singer and a superstar in her own right. The services attracted some of the most iconic figures in entertainment including Clive Davis, Kevin Costner with performances by the late Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. It is safe to say there was not a single dry eye in the church as the 8 time Grammy winner’s casket was carried out of the chapel. That artist was Whitney Houston.
Whitney passed away with a NJ estate valued at approximately $20 million dollars consisting of the artist’s sprawling home in Mendham, NJ and all the royalties from her many platinum albums. Houston left behind an attorney drafted will leaving her entire estate to her 18 year old daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in the form of a testamentary trust. On Bobbi Kristina’s 21stbirthday Bobbi was to receive 10% of the estate in the amount of approximately $2 million dollars. On Bobbi’s 25thbirthday Houston’s daughter was to receive another 10% installment of the Houston Estate with the rest, residue and remainder to be paid out on Bobbi Kristina’s 30thbirthday.
However Houston’s probate attorney also created a contingency estate plan naming Houston’s mother Cissy Houston and Cissy’s two brothers as alternate successor beneficiaries. Tragically in January of 2015, at the age of 21, Whitney Houston’s only child, Bobbi Kristina was found unresponsive in the bathtub of her Atlanta townhome. The unresponsive Bobbi Kristina would spend nearly six months in a coma before being removed from life support measures and ultimately succumbing to her condition.
As such, with Bobbi Kristina’s passing, pursuant to Whitney Houston’s will, the remainder of Houston’s estate passed to her gospel singer mother Cissy Houston and Whitney’s two uncles. In the end while Whitney’s untimely death was tragic, and only made more so by the horrific passing of her daughter Bobbi Kristina. However things could have been even worse absent Houston’s attorney drafted will. By having her estate lawyer draft and execute her attorney supervised Last Will & Testament, Whitney could not have known it at the time, but in doing so prevented one of the worst results in estate history. If not for Whitney’s probate attorney including the testamentary trust, which is standard protocol for NY estate planning in both big and small estates where a minor is the beneficiary, naming Whitney’s mother and uncles as successor beneficiaries, her entire estate would have ended up in the hands of ex-husband Bobbi Brown. For anyone who knows anything about Whitney Houston’s family dynamics this would have added even more stress to an already intolerable set of circumstances.
Had Whitney Houston passed without her attorney drafted Last Will & Testament, her entire estate would have passed to Bobbi Kristina upon the vocalist’s passing. Putting tens of millions of dollars into the hands of a distraught 18 year old Bobbi Kristina would not have been a good result. Upon, Bobbi Kristina’s passing, the entire Houston estate would have automatically passed to Bobbi Kristina’s next of kin, her biological father, Whitney’s ex-husband Bobbi Brown.
Why is it important to have a NY estate lawyer drafted and supervised will?
A Last Will & Testament, also known as a NY will, is a document, hopefully drafted by and executed in front of your NY estate lawyer, directing who will control and receive the assets within your NY estate after you are gone. Absent a NY will, the assets of your NY estate pass through administration, where your next of kin are identified and hopefully receive your wealth. Unlike the probate process, which is when there is a NY will, there are a number of issues with the administration process that are circumvented through the execution of your NY will. Passing without a will, the process of administration, requires someone of suitable age, credentials and with standing as your next of kin, to qualify as your administrator. Unfortunately, if your next of kin are minors, as in the Whitney Houston Estate, or worse if you have no next of kin, the public administrator is called upon to take over your NY estate. Even sadder, if your next of kin fail to agree on who shall act as your administrator, extensive litigation of that sole issue may be required which can take years, easily costing your estate tens of thousands of dollars or more. And finally, whoever is your administrator will most likely have to file a bond before the court will approve their appointment within your NY estate.
However, by drafting a NY attorney supervised will, you get to appoint your executor within the will thereby waiving the necessity of any bond and thus removing any ambiguity regarding who will control your NY estate when the time comes. Additionally, in your NY will, you can leave the proceeds of your NY estate to any individual and/or charity of your choosing. This is a tremendous advantage especially when planning your NY estate while keeping any minor beneficiaries in mind. If any beneficiaries of your NY estate are under 18 years of age, you can easily incorporate testamentary trust language, as depicted above within the Houston Will, into your NY will. Thereby naming a trusted individual, your trustee, to manage and provide for said minors until the age of your choosing at which time the residuary from any trust will be paid out in full to said beneficiaries.
Another advantage of drafting your NY will by a NY estate lawyer is for NY estate tax planning purposes. NY State is one of the few states in the nation that still believes in taxing the NY estates of their residents. In fact, even some of the most draconian countries in the world have completely abolished their estate tax laws as a progressive push has rendered said taxing a hinderance on economic growth. As of January 1, 2021, your NY estate lawyer will tell you that the NYS estate tax exemption increases to $5,930,000.00 per individual. This means with the help of your NY estate lawyer a married couple is able to pass $11,860,000 outside any and all NYS 16% estate liability this upcoming year in 2021 by utilizing some simple NY estate planning strategies. Nevertheless, every successful NY estate plan begins with having your NY estate lawyer draft and execute your NY will.
Additionally, by having your NY estate lawyer draft your NY will, you can create a contingency estate plan with successor beneficiaries should your primary beneficiary either predecease you or pass before the remainder of your estate is distributed. As in the Houston Estate above, by having an attorney drafted will that provided for the remainder of her sizable estate to be distributed to her mother and two uncles, Ms. Houston prevented the catastrophe of having her estate pass to someone she would never have wanted to receive it, her ex-husband.
If you or a family member are thinking about drafting their NY will feel free to call the NY estate lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our NY estate lawyers have more than 50 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Richmond and Dutchess.