Court weighs in on James Brown's will and estate turmoil

California residents may have seen the recent headlines about the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and the turmoil surrounding his substantial estate since his death in 2006. Brown died at the age of 73 and left behind an estate purportedly worth anywhere between $5 million and $100 million. Up until late last month, his estate was the subject of numerous legal challenges from family members and people claiming to be family, but a court ruling may have finally settled the issue for good.

In 2009, the South Carolina Attorney General worked out a deal between Brown's charitable trust and his alleged family members, who had brought lawsuits alleging the late soul singer's will was defective for a number of reasons. The 2009 settlement gave around 50% of Brown's assets to his charitable trust, which seeks to cover the educational expenses of disadvantaged children, and the rest was split between his wife and his children.

Last month, however, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the deal on the grounds that the Attorney General lacked authority to broker such a deal, and sent the case back to circuit court with new trustees. An attorney for Brown's wife was upset with the ruling, but also the legal quagmire that has ensued since Brown's passing. "The cost of litigation is going to eat up the estate," he said. "That's the tragedy."

People with rightful claims to challenge a will should have their day in court, but a court will typically dismiss frivolous or groundless estate challenges without it getting to this point. An experienced estates and trusts attorney can help people draw up an unimpeachable will during their life, and help them see it through the administration process.

Source: Reuters, "South Carolina court rejects deal in singer James Brown's estate," Harriet McLeod, Feb. 27, 2013

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