Judges: We Feel Good About Vetoing James Brown Estate Deal

In Los Angeles and all around the country, people have learned that when estates are contested, inheritances that have been expected could be tied up for years. Property and assets are essentially in limbo until rulings on the case can be made. One recent case regarding the estate of a music superstar is emblematic of this.

James Brown, one of the most influential artists in popular music history, died at age 73 in 2006. Since then, his estate has been in dispute. A former state attorney general of South Carolina –where Brown lived at the time of his death and where he is buried — put together a settlement in 2009, attempting to placate all the stakeholders of Brown’s estate. The deal would have given about half of the value of the estate to a charitable trust and half of the remainder to Brown’s widow. The remaining 25 percent of the estate was to be divided among Brown’s adult children.

However, the deal was contested and ended up before the South Carolina Supreme Court. The justices said that the settlement deal assembled by the ex-attorney general did not reflect Brown’s wishes: that most of his estate go to charity. While the court said it couldn’t determine what the value of the estate was — guessing that its value was between $5 million and $100 million — it did concur with a lower court decision to remove the original trustees of the estate due to mismanagement.

The judges made an important point in issuing their ruling: When a person declares his intent to leave most of his estate to charity, it is crucial that those wishes are upheld. Had the court ruled the other way in this case, according to the chief justice, it might have discouraged people from leaving money to charity in the future if they feared their decision could be rescinded in court after their death.

Source: KOTV-TV, “SC court nixes James Brown estate settlement,” Meg Kinnard, Feb. 27, 2013