Interesting News from the World of Estate Planning

John O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group

Whitney Houston: The Burden of Inheritance

Houston performing with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown on Good Morning America in 2009. source: Wikimedia

Houston performing with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown on Good Morning America in 2009. source: Wikimedia

Whitney Houston’s mother and sister-in-law recently filed a petition to change the terms of Houston’s will, which was last updated nearly 20 years ago. They want to delay the distribution of millions to Houston’s only child, Bobbi Kristina, 19, in order to protect her from con artists. They claim that the distributions provided for in the will to the young and vulnerable Bobbi Kristina contradict Houston’s intent to provide long term financial security and protection for her child.

Houston’s financial and family circumstances in 1993 were far different from when she died in 2012. Houston could have updated her estate planning to address these changes in her circumstances, and developments in the law, in the nearly 20 years since she signed her Will. Call your lawyer at least every three years to discuss the possibility of an update to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Rosa Parks’ Legacy Lives On –In Litigation


Rosa Parks, ca. 1955, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the background. source: public domain

Rosa Parks famously sparked the American civil rights movement by standing her ground on a Montgomery,Alabama bus. But Parks’ death in 2005, 50 years after her historic protest, left her family and legal executors fighting for control of the possessions that symbolize her iconic freedom fighter stature, as well as the royalties associated with licensing her name, image and likeness. Parks’ possessions are estimated to be worth $4 to $8 million, and her 15 nieces and nephews want their share. In 2007, both parties signed a legal agreement stipulating that Parks’ institute would get 80% of the net proceeds from the sale of her belongings, with the remaindergoing to her relatives. However, the executors’ lawyer recently claimed that Parks left all of her belongings and licensure rights to the institute before her death, and a probate judge recently ruled that Parks’ possessions could not be sold without his permission. Parks could have prevented this conflict by making her wishes clear and legally binding before her death.


Picasso has an interesting connection to the world of estate planning in that he spectacularly botched his own. He died on April 8, 1973, and left behind a huge estate consisting of cash, homes and, of course, his own work. He famously left no will.

At the time, his only known heirs under French intestacy laws were his current wife and a son from a previous marriage. However, Picasso was a notorious womanizer who had well publicized affairs with a number of mistresses. Ultimately, when all of his illegitimate children stood to be counted, the estate was divided among a total of six heirs.As a result of his lack of planning, Picasso’s estate owed an enormous sum to the French government to pay off his death duties (the French equivalent of estate tax). Due to a then-existing loophole in the law, the estate was allowed to donate works of art to the government in lieu of paying out any cash. (Though, had they known how much the art would come to be worth, I imagine the heirs would have been more than happy to part with the cash instead.) The government used this large donation to found the Musée Picasso in Paris.

In total, it took over six years to close out Picasso’s estate, resulting in donations of art to the government worth over $30 million.

About the author:

ogradyJohn O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC,  was the 2012 chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section.