Even celebrities with vast resources and multiple advisers don’t always use them to their advantage. And at times they seemingly do. The “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, died in 2006, preparing a will, and even recording a videotape expressing his wish to leave the majority of the assets in his multi-million dollar estate to fund the “I Feel Good” trust for underprivileged children. Yet, his heirs, unhappy with the distributions they received from his estate, initiated a will challenge soon after his death. Presently in 2016, despite a settlement order dated February 24, 2016, many questions remain unanswered about the estate’s assets, especially those that are most valuable – the copyrights from Brown’s musical works.
Brown’s will was executed in 2000, which provided $2 million in scholarships for his seven grandchildren while dividing his personal property, worth an estimated $2 million, among the six individuals he recognized as his children. The will contained an in terrorem clause which stated that any heir challenging the arrangement would be disinherited, and thus lose any share.
In addition, in the rights to Brown’s image, Brown’s estate also contained over 850 copyrights in his musical works. In 2007, Brown’s four children and one grandchild of Brown, initiated a will challenge, alleging undue influence on the part of trustees involved Brown’s estate. In 2009, a settlement was reached in the court, but the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the agreement for the reason that the settlement rewrote Brown’s estate plan.
Finally, in 2016, almost ten years since Brown’s death, a settlement order was issued by a South Carolina judge. Despite the in terrorem clauses, the order permits Brown’s four children, all will contestants, to receive the personal property originally left to them under the will, $37,500 each, and does not make them responsible for any of the costs of the 9-year will contest. Nine years of delay and litigation costs would seemingly be at end, but the order neither conclusively resolves Brown’s estate battle nor does it clarify ownership regarding the copyrights left to his charitable trust. And the beat goes on. . wait, that was a different sixties musical icon.
To learn more about planning for your estate, contact the legal team at The Swenson Law Firm. With our years of estate planning experience, we are an effective, efficient and affordable choice in providing important advice and preparing the appropriate estate plan to effectuate your wishes.