Reports indicate that the Administrator of Bobbi Kristina Brown’s massive estate abruptly quit amidst the heated family drama since Brown’s death. Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, died after being in a coma for several months after a presumed drug overdose nearly two years ago. Her estate, and the ensuing legal drama surrounding it, however, have continued to live on.
Atlanta attorney Bedelia Hargrove, now the former Administrator, has been involved with Brown’s estate since before her death in June 2015. Ms. Hargrove was originally appointed as Conservator of the Estate – a role granted by the court in cases where a person is not capable of managing his or her own finances.
Reports indicate that the Hargrove quit due to tension and “family infighting” between Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston, sister-in-law Pat Houston, and Krissy’s father, Bobby Brown. There appear to have also been disagreements related to bills owed by the estate, with Hargrove claiming the family refused to pay. Houston’s family, on the other hand, claimed Hargrove would not show receipts to account for her own large fees, and also wasted estate funds by pursuing the wrongful death suit against Nick Gordon.
Bobbi Kristina’s tragic death at the age of 21, combined with her wealth and celebrity status have catapulted attorney Belinda Hargrove into the mainstream newscycle. But Hargrove’s role – i.e. the role of a non-family neutral third party in administering an estate – is in fact, quite common in probate cases. But what exactly was Ms. Hargrove’s role? Let’s take a look.
News articles refer to Hargrove as “Conservator of the Estate,” “Administrator of the Estate,” and “Trustee”. It’s possible that she was, in fact, all three.
- Conservator of the Estate. A “conservator” is essentially like a court appointed agent under a power of attorney. Conservator of the Estate refers specifically to someone who manages the finances on behalf of another person, called the Conservatee. When Bobbi Kristina was in a coma, prior to her death, the court appointed Ms. Hargrove to manage her finances. If someone becomes incapacitated (dementia or serious accident/injury) and they had previously executed a valid Durable Power of Attorney, the need for a conversatorship may be obviated.
- Administrator of the Estate. An administrator is similar to the “executor” of a will. However, when someone dies without a will, as Bobby Kristina likely did, the court will appoint someone to administer the decedent’s estate. This essentially means taking responsibility for the assets and ensuring they are distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries. For someone who has a Trust, an Administrator of the Estate would only be appointed if that person had assets that were not part of the trust.
- Trustee of a Trust. Whitney Houston had reportedly set up a trust with Bobbi Kristina as the sole beneficiary. While it is unclear who the actual trust document named as Trustee, Ms. Hargrove appears to have been the acting Trustee until several days ago. The Trustee is responsible for managing all trust assets and ensuring they are distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries.
In most cases I handle that involve a third party acting as Conservator, Trustee, or Administrator, that person is a professional fiduciary as opposed to an attorney. This can be of significant cost savings, because fiduciaries typically have an hourly rate that is much less than that of an attorney. When a fiduciary is appointed, they will also have an attorney to handle the legal aspects of his or role, but the attorney would not handle the day to day management activities. In certain Trust matters, fees are paid on a percentage basis, and thus fees would be the same for a fiduciary and an attorney. Conservatorship matters are usually paid on an hourly fee schedule, and thus significant cost savings can be attained by using a fiduciary rather than an attorney.
Court documents indicate that a temporary successor has been appointed to take over the management of Ms. Brown’s estate. It is my hope that the family and their respective attorneys can resolve estate matters as quickly as possible, and avoid further heartache after the loss of young Bobby Kristina.