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Whitney Houston's Death Provides Estate Planning Lessons

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Whitney Houston's unexpected death at age 48 is tragic, but it also offers lessons in estate planning: It's never too early (or too late) to create a will, and it's also a good idea to create a separate document to spell out funeral and burial plans.

Whitney Houston's funeral is set for Saturday in New Jersey, at the church where the singer first took to the stage, Reuters reports. But there was a family dispute about Houston's burial plans: Some wanted her buried in New Jersey, others in Atlanta, according to the website TMZ.

Such disagreements may have been avoidable, had Whitney Houston left her final wishes in writing -- and not just in a will.

Indeed, Whitney Houston did leave a will, which likely names her only child Bobbi Kristina Brown, 18, as her main beneficiary, ABC News reports. But the probate process can take months, and a person's will may not be accessible during that time.

That's why lawyers recommend creating a separate document -- called a "Final Arrangements" or "Last Wishes" document -- to spell out your funeral and burial preferences. This document should be signed and dated by you, and perhaps even a witness. It should also be kept in a safe place that will be easy to find.

A "Final Arrangements" document can cover a wide range of issues such as:

  • Your wishes for burial, cremation, or embalming;
  • Your choice of casket or container;
  • How your remains will be transported to the facility of your choice;
  • Ceremony arrangements for your funeral and/or burial;
  • Your wishes for who your pallbearers will be; and
  • Your choice of tombstone or cemetery marker.

Your "Last Wishes" list can include whatever is important to you. You may want to check with an estate-planning lawyer to make sure you're not overlooking anything.

If your "Last Wishes" are not in writing, and you have not clearly communicated your wishes to your loved ones, state law may fill the void by assigning a surviving relative -- usually a spouse or children -- to make funeral and burial decisions.

In Whitney Houston's case, it seems the family has finally agreed to a burial in New Jersey. The process for probating Whitney Houston's will is just beginning, ABC reports.

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