The Estate Woes of James Brown: A Lesson in Planning

August 8, 2011  |  

by Selam Aster

Even though the late, great James Brown has “at least” nine children and was married at the time of his death on Christmas in 2006, he set up his will so that no one in his family inherited his money. Instead,  he designated that all his money should go towards a trust to help poor and needy children, according to a report that appeared in Forbes today.

Now, you can imagine what his family had to say about Brown giving away his $100 million fortune, right?

Indeed, since his passing, lawyer and court fees have been steadily eating away at Brown’s fortune as his large family is continuing to contest his wishes on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to make that decision. Unfortunately, Brown’s associate and former producer Jacqueline Hollander is countering the family’s wishes to get a piece of the pie, claiming that his will made it crystal clear what he wanted to do with his fortune and that was clearly not to pass it along to his family. Hollander says she even has Brown on video  stating that he wanted his money to go towards poor children. Hollander was to administer that trust.

In any case, it should be noted that Brown had not updated his will in the five years that he was married to Tomi Rae Hynie, to whom he was married at the time of his death. This fact, along with the assumption that it was hard for courts to fully believe Brown’s wishes to deprive his whole family,  led to a decision in 2009 by the attorney general of South Carolina, allocating 50% of the estate to Brown’s family, with the rest remaining with the children’s trust.

Well, two of Brown’s former trustees are contesting this decision, on strong ground that his will was very clear. The case is now with the South Carolina Supreme Court.

What’s the lesson here: if you’re wealthy and have a lot of family to handle, make sure you consistently update your will. It’s hard to believe that Brown, at his age and with his wealth and with his ex-wives and with his many children, did not pay more attention to updating his will.

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