James Brown’s “Vague” Estate Plan Forced Family into Years of Litigation

The “Godfather of Soul”, James Brown was a singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer and bandleader that died with an estimated $100 million estate. His plan was for this to provide for his children and grandchildren but he did not make it clear. The family was forced into litigation that lasted years and even went to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Everything Seemed In Order…

James Brown had a last will and testament in place in which he signed in front of Strom Thurmond, Jr. in 2000. He had a will that bequeathed his personal assets and he had an irrevocable trust that bequeathed music rights, business assets and his South Carolina home. It seemed he had everything covered in his estate plan. Some things he had been very specific with in his plan. A majority of his music empire was to be donated to an educational charity. There was money to provide for his six adult living children, Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl Brown, Yamma Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas, and Venisha Brown. A family education fund was also set up for his grandchildren. But a few days after he died in 2006 from congestive heart failure the chaos started.

Heirs Not Happy With Charitable Donation

His wife and children did not like the large charitable donations and so they contested the estate. The children filed a lawsuit against Brown’s estate representatives claiming impropriety and mismanagement of the assets. His wife at the time, Tomi Rae Hynie and the son they had together were not even in the will because it had not been updated since his marriage to her. She filed a lawsuit requesting the court to recognize her as Brown’s widow and their son as another heir.

The South Carolina Supreme Court decided to uphold Brown’s plans of charitable contributions and they did recognize Hynie and their son as another heir to the estate.

Should You Anticipate Litigation?

The assets to this estate were large and became controversial. He had failed to update his estate plan and did not communicate his intentions of the donations to his family. They were surprised by his plans. Using an experienced attorney can help you avoid most of the chances of having your family upset with your plans once you pass on. Call our office today and set an appointment so we can help you make or update your estate plan to avoid these and many other possible problems.


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