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James Brown's estate-planning failure

James Brown has been dead for 11 years, but not a dime of his estate has gone to any of his beneficiaries yet. The estate has multiple lawsuits tying it up in probate. The situation has gotten so bad, one attorney referred to it as a "mini-series," saying that you needed a map to maneuver through it.

James Brown, known as the "Godfather of Soul," lived a disarrayed life that included drug arrests, domestic violence and even weapons. Now that disarray is causing chaos.

The last of over a dozen lawsuits was filed last month in California. Nine of Brown's children and grandchildren are suing the singer's widow and the administrator of his estate. The suit claims the two were making side agreements regarding copyrights to songs that Brown authored.

One lawsuit in the court even challenges the fact that his widow, Tommie Ray Hynie, was ever Brown's legal wife. This is based on a former marriage of Hynie's it's alleged that she had never dissolved before she and Brown were wed. However, in 2015, it was ruled by a judge in South Carolina that she and Brown were legally married and James Brown II, her now 16-year-old son, was fathered by Brown.

Along with these lawsuits, there are others. Some plaintiffs are contesting the will. Another filed suit because she thought she should have been as a trustee. Still other litigation was filed by those who were named trustees of the estate and then removed, and one from James Brown II asserting his claim as heir.

Brown's will included a $2 million dollar fund for scholarships for his grandchildren, but the majority of his estate was to be put in an "I Feel Good Trust" for scholarships for South Carolina and Georgia students. Because of the lawsuits filed against Brown's estate, none of his good intentions can be implemented. His estate has remained in probate for more than a decade already, and a settlement doesn't seem to be on the horizon.

Estate planning is meant to prevent just this sort of thing from happening. When a person does their estate planning, they should be sure their attorney is fully familiar with their familial issues and aware of any family members that might contest the will. This helps the attorney to draft the will to eliminate as much contention as possible.

Source: The New York Times, "Why Is James Brown’s Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers," Steve Knopper, Feb. 4, 2018

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