Whitney Houston's Estate Expected to Get Boost After Death, But Less Than Michael Jackson

Whitney Houston's legal tangles to continue after her death.

February 14, 2012, 7:32 AM

Feb. 14, 2012 — -- Whitney Houston had her fair share of chart-toppers, even posthumously on iTunes and Amazon, and though the superstar's finances took a hit during her personal struggles, it is still believed to be a substantial estate that will only get larger.

While there were recent reports that Houston was struggling financially, the sales of her music after her death will improve the condition of her estate, as will the fact that she'll no longer be burning through cash. Michael Jackson sold over 8 million albums in the U.S. alone in the six months after his death, and close to 30 million worldwide.

Although details of her estate and will have not been made public it is believed that her only child, daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, will be the main beneficiary. Houston had a will and the estate process is ongoing, according to a source familiar with her affairs.

Zach Greenburg, Forbes writer, said Whitney Houston will not match Jackson's postmortem earnings, but if her music sells even half as well as Jackson's did, her artist royalties alone could bring the estate more than $10 million in the coming year.

Houston made millions for her roles in "The Bodyguard" in 1992 and "The Preacher's Wife" in 1996, the latter for which she reportedly earned $10 million. And in 2001, Houston renewed her contact with Arista Records, signing a $100 million deal, one of the biggest recording deals in the history of the music business, Variety reported at the time. The deal called for at least six albums and two greatest-hits compilations. Her comeback album, "I Look to You," was released in 2009.

Houston is the 20th top-selling artist in the U.S. of all time, selling 55 million records, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The single, "I Will Always Love You," from "The Bodyguard" soundtrack is the longest running number one single from a soundtrack album.

Houston's "Nothing but Love" world tour, from December 2009 through June 2010, was her last. The tour, her first in ten years, grossed millions of dollars.

Keith Caulfield, Billboard's associate director of charts, said while Houston's sales will not come close to the financial success of Michael Jackson, who had publishing, song-writing and recording royalties, her greatest hits album will re-enter Billboard's Top 10 chart possibly this week. Already, 50,000 were sold in the first day or two after her death.

However, Caulfield said it is difficult to estimate how much Houston will receive because how her contract was structured is unknown.

"Certainly, we would expect that her estate won't be broke," said Andrew Mayoras, attorney and co-author of the book, Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, even if the reports of her financial struggles were true.

A source familiar with Houston's financial situation told ABCNews.com that "she was far from broke."

The surging sales of Whitney Houston's music may be a large boost to her estate, as with other artists after they have passed away. Jimi Hendrix is an example of an estate which grew from almost nothing into a huge, multi-million dollar venture, said Mayoras.

Houston also completed the filming of "Sparkle," produced by Sony's TriStar Pictures, and it is scheduled to be released in September. Houston plays the mother of "American Idol's" Jordin Sparks in the film.

Andrew Katzenstein, estate lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP in Los Angeles, said it is difficult to estimate her royalties because her earnings will be multiplied by an unknown formula, possibly dependent on the recent sales of her songs. He also said her earnings could be less with digital distribution, through services like iTunes.

"But she's an international star, and her music was fantastic," Katzenstein said.

Like other celebrities, Houston also had public financial and legal tangles, including struggling with drugs and alcohol. After her divorce with R&B artist, Bobby Brown, in 2007, Brown reportedly sued Houston for custody and spousal support.

Bobby Brown said he was "deeply saddened at the passing of my ex-wife."

"At this time, we ask for privacy, especially for my daughter, Bobbi- Kristina," he said in a statement. "I appreciate all of the condolences that have been directed towards my family and I at this most difficult time."

Her stepmother sued Houston over a $1 million life insurance policy from her late father, John Houston.

Houston had lent her father $723,800 in August 1990 for the purchase and renovation of a home in New Jersey in which he lived with his wife, Barbara. When John Houston died in February 2003, he bequeathed all his assets to his widow.

"Although Barbara and Whitney may be considered stepmother and daughter, that relationship never really jelled," the court filing stated.

Barbara inherited the property, though Whitney owned the mortgage on the house and was the named life insurance beneficiary. But Barbara claimed the life insurance money was meant to repay Whitney for that mortgage. When Whitney refused to credit the life insurance money against the mortgage, Barbara sued in 2008.

Though the case was finally dismissed in December, Houston's attorney, Bryan Blaney, told ABC News on Monday Houston had planned to file a complaint to have her stepmother evicted from the property.

"It's no different that it's her property, or the property of her estate, which would go to her daughter or whoever her beneficiary is," Blaney said.

Blaney said the complaint was prepared before Houston's death but it has not been filed for reasons "unrelated to anything of significance." He said he expects to be updated by her manager.

"I don't think there will be any reason not to file the complaint," Blaney said. "I can only tell you there's a whole lot of things going on with the folks right now in regards to her manager and family members."

Blaney said he was "devastated" by the loss of Houston, who was a "tremendous" person.

"I always thought it was sad that people would reach out to make her life more difficult than it needed to be," he said. "I always found her to be a sensitive and nice person and whatever issues she might have had, I can't comment. I don't know them."

Blaney represented Houston to dismiss the charge of drug possession in her suitcase at an airport in Hawaii in 2000.

"I think she became an easy target for tabloids," he said. "There were instances that were plainly unfair in tabloid editions of her just to sell newspapers."

Barbara Houston, who declined to comment, continues to reside in the property in Fort Lee, N.J., her attorney, Gilberto Garcia, said.

"It's a sad thing what happened for everyone involved," Garcia said of Whitney Houston's death. "She was a great figure and a great voice. She was a good daughter to her father."

Garcia said Barbara Houston sent condolences to Houston's attorney.

"My client is quite shaken up by this," Garcia said. "I don't know that the case matters much in comparison to everything that's going on."

Mayoras said he assumes Houston used life insurance of some type to protect her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, regardless of reports of any financial struggles.

The state of the multiple Grammy and Billboard music award winner's finances are unknown at the time of her unexpected death. Her estate will profit from royalties for future sales of her songs, as well as licensing deals for her name, image and likeness.

Ideally, Houston would have set up at least a revocable living trust to provide for her daughter, so she doesn't receive everything at once, Mayoras said.

"Most people with even a modest amount of wealth use trusts to control how and when their money is passed," he said. "For example, we would hope Whitney would have spaced out Bobbi Kristina's distributions over time, so that she would receive a percentage as she reaches certain ages. Most 18-year-olds are not mature enough to handle a substantial inheritance."

Ideally, Whitney would have named a trust as the beneficiary of any life insurance, Mayoras said. Otherwise the money would go directly to the named beneficiary, possibly Bobbi-Kristina.

Depending on whether updated she updated her documents after her divorce from Bobby Brown, there could be complications if he is named as a beneficiary, Mayoras said.

"Hopefully, she would have taken steps to update her documents to eliminate anything going to Bobby Brown, " Mayoras said, "unless, of course, she wanted him to receive something. But many people don't take the time to update their estate planning documents after a divorce."

Houston did sell a home in Alpharetta, Ga. for $1.19 million in May 2007, shortly after the divorce, for which Houston had received a notice of default. Houston bought the home in 2003 for $1.38 million by taking out a 15-year mortgage for $1.1 million, according to public records. The home was where the 2005 reality television show, "Being Bobby Brown," was filmed. Houston had a county tax lien on the property for $17,644 in December 2005, according to public records.

Houston had a handful of properties that she unloaded or tried to unload recently. She also sold a house in Mendham, N.J. for $940,000 in January 2010. She also listed another home in Mendham for $2.5 million in 2009, Zillow reported. Houston reportedly owned a home in New Bergen, N.J. that she bought in 1989 for $955,000.

ABC News' Kevin Dolak and Ross Eichenholz contributed to this report.

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