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.

ByABC News
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.