Now that Bobbi Kristina Brown is gone, six months after she mysteriously fell into unconsciousness, what happens to the estate she was to inherit from her late mother, Whitney Houston?
Who will control the estimated millions Houston left in a trust for Bobbi Kristina in her will?
Will it be her grieving father, Bobby Brown? He maintained a vigil at her bedside as she lay in a medically induced coma for months in Atlanta hospitals and a hospice.
Or will it be her maternal family, led by grandmother Cissy Houston and her aunt Pat Houston, who also were at her side? They have controlled the bulk of Bobbi Kristina's money under the terms of Whitney Houston's will.
One thing is likely: Many lawyers will be involved.
"It's going to be a windfall for the lawyers, unfortunately," says Jerry Reisman, a trusts and estate-law expert and partner at the Long Island firm of Reisman, Peirez, Reisman and Capobianco.
Just three years after her mother was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Bobbi Kristina was found unresponsive and face down in a bathtub in her Roswell, Ga., home, on Jan. 31. She died Sunday at age 22 at a hospice outside Atlanta.
It is still unclear what happened to her and why, but local police and the district attorney have been investigating whether a crime was committed.
An autopsy to be performed by the Fulton County Medical Examiner could take weeks to produce results, according to a statement issued Monday.
The Brown and Houston families, who have not seen eye to eye on Bobbi Kristina for years, may be headed for a long and expensive litigation unless the two families can come to some agreement outside court. They have already demonstrated they can.
In April, Bobby Brown and Pat Houston were appointed guardians over Bobbi Kristina by a Georgia family court, and a conservator was appointed to look after her assets. Family court hearings in Georgia are closed to the public so no one in the families has spoken publicly about the proceedings.
David Long, attorney for Houston, released a statement for her saying at the time the guardianship case was a "family matter" and would not be discussed publicly.
"We hope to resolve this in a manner that is respectful of Bobbi Kristina's sensitive health information," the statement said. "The Houston family has always looked out for the best interest of Bobbi Kristina Brown. ... We trust that others have the same objective."
But the questions about what happens now to her estate suggest a murky legal situation, Reisman says.
"Everyone is going to try to grab (her money), but it's not necessarily up for grabs," Reisman says. "And it's a lot of money. Don't forget the royalties coming in (from Houston's music). That estate is never going to end." Neither could the potential litigation arising from this case of mother-daughter tragedy, he says.
Inheritance laws differ from state to state, he says, but the terms of Whitney's will are likely to trump all state laws unless the terms are disputed in court.
If so, "the court would have to determine what (Houston) meant to do," he says. "But generally the will governs."
And under its terms, Bobbi Kristina was not to get full access to all the money until she turned 30.
When Houston died in 2012, her estimated $20 million estate was left to Bobbi Kristina, who was her only child. Houston first drafted her will in 1993, and she amended it in April 2000, but even after that Bobbi Kristina inherited everything — all of Houston's money, furniture, clothing, cars, including the townhouse in Roswell where she had been living.
The estate was placed in a trust until Bobbi Kristina turned 21, on March 4, 2014. At that time, she received 10% of the estate, or about $2 million. The will dictated that she was to get another sixth of the estate when she turned 25, and the rest at age 30.
So now what?
Since Bobbi Kristina died before she turned 30, who benefits?
Under the terms of the will, it goes to Cissy Houston, and Whitney's two brothers. Cissy was named executor of the will but renounced the appointment, and a Georgia probate judge later named Whitney's sister-in-law and manager, Marion (Pat) Houston, as the sole administrator of the estate.
What about her father?
Originally, Bobby Brown was listed as a beneficiary in the will, too, but he and Whitney divorced in 2007.
Reisman says that means that generally Bobby Brown would not be entitled to any part of his ex-wife's estate now that Bobbi Kristina has died.
But, says Atlanta estate lawyer Bruce Gaynes, he would be entitled to whatever Bobbi Kristina has received so far from her mother's will.
"For the purposes of Bobbi Kristina's estate, he is the sole beneficiary, if she has no husband and if she has no will," says Gaynes, of the Kitchens Kelley Gaynes firm.
Bobby Brown could seek to gain control of some or all of the Whitney millions in trust for his daughter, but "he would have to argue that in court and it would mean a lot of litigation," Reisman adds.
What about the rights, if any, of Bobbi Kristina's boyfriend, Nick Gordon?
Bobbi Kristina claimed on social media that the two were "married." If he can produce proof of this marriage, Reisman says, then he might be entitled.
"If they are married, in every state, assuming there is no (Bobbi Kristina) will, a husband has certain marital rights to a spouse's estate, and absent a waiver or a pre-nup agreement, it's almost impossible to prevent that spouse from obtaining a share, if not all, of an estate," Reisman says.
But Bobby Brown insists Gordon was not married to his daughter, and so far, Gordon has not produced any proof.
Moreover, Gordon is a possible target of the investigation of what happened to Bobbi Kristina, and has been sued for millions by her court-appointed conservator, Bedelia Hargrove. That lawsuit asserts that Gordon beat up Bobbi Kristina the day she was found, knocking out a tooth and leaving her unconscious and suffering from what her grandmother later said was "global brain-damage." He also allegedly stole thousands from her bank account while she was unconscious, the lawsuit charges.
Ian Halperin, an investigative journalist who looked into the circumstances of what happened to Bobbi Kristina for his book, Whitney & Bobbi Kristina: The Deadly Price of Fame, says police in Roswell may now move forward now that Bobbi Kristina has died.
"The autopsy is the final detail," Halperin said. "The police will release their findings soon. My sources say criminal charges are most likely to be filed."
Could Gordon have a claim as a "common-law" husband?
Some states allow common-law marriages; Georgia, where they had been living, no longer does.
"He's going to have a very difficult time proving they were married," Reisman says. "And even if he could make the case, he has no rights (to an estate) under a common-law marriage."
Gaynes says that if there is a dispute over the estate and Gordon's relationship to Bobbi Kristina, it won't follow the typical reason for such disputes.
"More often than not the most typical reason for disputes seems to be a second marriage (widow or widower) with the children from the first marriage," he says. "A dispute about whether there was a marriage — that would be unusual. Fighting over money? Not unusual."
Could Gordon still benefit?
Bobbi Kristina's relatives could pay him with a percentage of her estate to go away, Reisman says, to avoid years of litigation.
"If he gets lawyers, they would go 'forum shopping' as we call it, looking for the state with the best possible forum most favorable to them," Reisman says. "If he does bring litigation, he would lose but it would probably be wise for the family to settle with him."
On the other hand, if Gordon is charged and convicted of having some involvement in the events that led to Bobbi Kristina's death, a settlement is unlikely.
If he were to be convicted, the state "slayer statute," which most states have, would prevent him from inheriting from Bobbi Kristina's estate, Gaynes said.
Contributing: Ann Oldenburg
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