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Music legend's James Brown's estate still mired in family battles

Recently, we discussed the fact that many estate disputes involve stepmothers and their stepchildren. That's the case with the estate of music legend James Brown. The "Godfather of Soul" died just over 11 years ago, on Christmas Day 2006, after a complicated life that included drugs, multiple arrests and estrangement from some of his children.

Brown had what no less than the South Carolina Supreme Court called a "carefully crafted estate plan" that directed most of his millions of dollars to be used for scholarships for underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. He also left scholarship money to his grandchildren and other assets to children he acknowledged as his. Estimates of the value of the estate range from under $5 million to $100 million. However, those assets are caught in a legal quagmire.

That's because the estate has been embroiled in over a dozen lawsuits stretching from South Carolina to California. One suit was filed here in California just last month in federal court.

Some of Brown's children and grandchildren are suing his widow, Tommie Rae Hynie, who is the administrator of her husband's estate. The nine plaintiffs claim that she made "illegal back-room agreements" regarding copyrights for his songs. That's where most of the value of his estate lies.

They continue to claim that Hynie wasn't legally married to their father because she was still married to someone else when she wed the singer. A court has ruled in her favor.

Brown's troubles with substance abuse are behind some of the will contests. Some of his children and grandchildren have claimed that he was in no shape to make sound decisions regarding his estate.

One of Brown's sons publicly lamented the fact that his father's intentions to help kids in the states where he spent his young years have been held up by the legal wrangling. He says, "There are no winners in this."

Obviously, most people don't have Brown's wealth or his complicated personal life. However, even the best intentions can be jeopardized by family squabbles after a loved one dies. If you are dealing with contests to a loved one's estate, it's essential to have an experienced California estate planning attorney by your side.

Source: The New York Times, "Why Is James Brown’s Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers," Steve Knopper, Feb. 04, 2018

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