James Brown, the legendary “Godfather of Soul,” covered all of his bases as a performer and he amassed a fortune that is estimated at $100 million in overall value. Brown died in 2006 on Christmas Day, leaving behind a wife, a son from that marriage, three ex-wives, and at least eight other children. He had been married to his widow, Tomi Rae Hynie, for five years prior to his death but he never updated his estate plan during that time.
When he passed away his estate plan consisted of a trust that was to be administered for the benefit of needy children. This is quite a heart warming final gesture, but the problem lies in the fact that he didn’t leave anyone in his own family anything at all. His children and ex-wife are challenging the trustees who insist that James Brown’s wishes were clearly stated in the trust, leaving everything to poor children and nothing to his own children, wife or ex-wives.
The family is contending that Brown’s true wishes are not reflected in the trust and he omitted them due to either mental incompetence or because he succumbed to undue outside influences. There was an agreement arranged by the court that would have given half of the estate to the children’s charities and a quarter of it to his widow, with the other 25% split among his children.
However, two former trustees appealed this arrangement and a former producer has stepped forward claiming to have been appointed by Brown to manage the trust, stating that he wanted his family to receive nothing.
In the end he has been dead since late in 2006 and his estate is still hung up in court.
The thing to learn from all of this is that it is important to update your estate plan when your marital status changes. And in addition, it may be useful to consider how your family may react when you are making inheritance planning decisions.