James Brown recorded 16 number-one singles on the Billboard R&B charts including his signature song, “I Feel Good.” Unfortunately, no one is feeling good about the nearly decade-long battle still raging over his estate which began after his death on Christmas Day, 2006.
The majority of Brown’s estate – estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars – was distributed via his will to the I Feel Good Trust. Brown set up the trust to provide scholarships to underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. To date, none of his estate proceeds have been distributed, however, due to ongoing litigation between Brown’s fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, his seven children, and his trust.
Brown’s estate has devolved into a huge mess for his family. He has seven children and during the estate battle several more people stepped forward claiming they were Brown’s children as well. The legality of his marriage to Hynie has been called into question. Two sets of trustees have already been removed from the case.
Over the last few years the South Carolina Attorney General attempted to broker a deal between the parties and the South Carolina Supreme Court even got involved. The latest twist was a decision in January of 2015 by a South Carolina judge granting a journalist’s Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to emails that include appraisals of Brown’s assets and discussions about Hynie’s diary as well as how much the estate should pay a local law firm involved in the fight over the estate.
As you might imagine, all of this is terribly expensive. Brown’s estate has to foot the bill along with paying millions to creditors, lawyers and other debtors. But not one single dollar has been given to the scholarship program Brown envisioned.
While a challenge to Brown’s will may not have been avoidable considering the number of relatives he left behind, properly transferring his assets to the trust before his death may have prevented much of the litigation and provided the education funds for the children he wanted to help. And since a trust is private, unlike a will, it would have avoided the public scrutiny over his private affairs.
This is a common error made by estate planning lawyers, even those hired by wealthy people like James Brown. Unfortunately, whether someone has significant financial wealth or not, the impact on their family is the same — if the assets are not titled properly in a trust at the time of death, the family members left behind will end up in Court. That’s guaranteed.
If you would like to chat about how an estate plan can help protect your family from the time, expense, and emotional pain of court, call our office today to schedule a time for us to talk. If you already have a plan and want to make sure it doesn’t have mistakes (such as not titling your assets correctly), call us and ask for an estate plan review. The next two callers who mention this article will receive these services free of charge.