James Brown’s estate ain’t on the good foot

When James Brown died in December 2006 his estate comprised copyrights to more than 800 songs and the rights to his image that some estimated to be worth more than $90million. 

 In a Will Brown had created six years prior to his death the major beneficiary was the “I Feel Good” Trust, to be established to benefit South Carolina and Georgia students in need.

 Although Brown was alleged to have fathered many illegitimate children his household goods were to be distributed among six children named in his Will with a stipulation that any heir who challenged the Will would be disinherited.  The Will also directed $2 million be set aside for an education trust for designated grandchildren.

 However many of Mr. Brown’s children and grandchildren were unhappy with the executors appointed under the Will and commenced legal action to have them removed.

Another complication was that in 2001, Brown married Tommi Rae Hynie, with whom he had a child. Hynie had signed a prenuptial agreement renouncing any claim to Brown’s estate, and a 2004 document stating she would never claim common-law status. Brown’s adult children went to court to have the marriage declared illegitimate as Hynie was married to another person at the time of the marriage ceremony to Brown.

 Even the state of South Carolina became involved in the estate dispute when it brokered a deal giving roughly half of the estate to the trust, a quarter to his widow, with the remainder to be split among his adult children. Later the state Supreme Court rejected the settlement, saying it ignored Brown’s wishes that the bulk of his estate be used to establish a trust to help poor children get an education.

 In the 9 years since Brown died, two sets of executors have been replaced. Millions of dollars have been paid in legal fees, but all other distributions from the estate are on hold until the disputes are solved. Brown’s body remains in a temporary resting place, in a mausoleum at the home of one of his daughters and not in the memorial modeled on Graceland planned for his home.

Early this year a Court ruled James Brown and Hynie were legally married when he died, meaning she could be entitled to 1/2 of his estate and could choose his final resting place. This series of events may not have occurred if the executors of the estate were more acceptable to the beneficiaries and Brown’s wishes could have been carried out.

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