No, my title is not punctuated wrong.
Whitney Houston, one of the most-awarded female acts of all-time, sold over 170 million albums, singles and videos worldwide, released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification……. only has a will?!?!
As an estate attorney, I was, needless to say, very surprised.
You see, for the most people with even a moderate sized estate (moderate on average, not compared to the super rich like Houston), a trust would be a far better vehicle for their estate plans. A trust does not go through probate. This alone makes a trust appealing since probate makes the administration of the estate a matter of public record, it takes time, and it provides a fertile breeding ground for disgruntled family members’ litigous and acrimonious in-fighting.
While a will is a key component in an estate plan, the trust reigns supreme.
The other “Holy Moly!” moment is when I read that her will had not been updated since 1993. Now if this were someone I knew well, I would not be that surprised, people far too often fail to update their estate documents. But this is Whitney Houston! One would think someone on her team of assistants would ensure that updating the estate plan would be done at least biannually if not annually. So, here is your free advise for the day, update your estate plans for at least with any major event in life (marriage or divorce, birth or death of a child, etc.). Reviewing the documents annually is also a good idea.
Revisiting these documents does not mean redrafting, though sometimes redrafting might make your intentions more clear, and sometimes it may even be less expensive to redraft. But wills can also be amended through codicils, and trusts can be amended simply by amendments. Houston’s will did have one codicil. As mentioned, a codicil is simply an amendment. Either document can be used to replace executors, named beneficiaries, and more.
Some people in an attempt to save money, start taking a pen to their estate documents. They cross out Uncle Larry since he stole Grandpa’s watch. They add Aunt Betty, who has always been so nice. They start to make a real mess of their estate plan. The court will not enforce documents that are not a clear expression of the testator’s intention. Moreover, the court needs to be be sure all of those factors are there, a clear expression, of the testator’s, intention. So they have to know it is the testator’s intention, and not someone else who found the will and had a pen handy.
One last parting word. It is surprising that an amazing woman as successful and talented as Whitney Houston did not have the tools to give her and her family more privacy in these matters. Probate however is not a dirty word, and not everyone needs a trust. Probate has it’s role and should not be avoided merely because of what you read on a blog. That being said, if you have concerns over wanting to keep things more confidential, or have concerns over potential family feuding, trusts can be a great remedy.