Singer’s 15-Year Estate Battle Is Wrapping Up

The fighting over Brown’s estate has been going on since he died 15 years ago on Christmas Day at age 73. A series of bizarre events followed, says the Associated Press in the article “Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate.” They included photos of a woman who claimed to have been married to Brown being locked out of his home, sobbing and rattling the iron gates to his estate.

James Brown was known for his flashy performances and iconic chart-topping hits, like “I Feel Good,” “A Man’s World,” “Pappas Got a Brand-New Bag,” and many more. Unfortunately, he was plagued by drug problems and mismanaged finances, which shrank his estate.

More than twelve lawsuits were filed by people trying to establish claims to his assets. Courts estimates of his net worth range from $5 million to more than $100 million.

The battle was gruesome from the start, since it wasn’t just about money. Brown’s family fought over what was to happen with his body. His remains, inside a gold casket, were in a funeral home in cold storage for more than two months, until this issue was resolved.

Brown was eventually interred in Beech Island, South Carolina, at the home of one of his daughters. The family had plans to create a shrine to him, using Elvis Presley’s Graceland as a model, but the idea never became reality.

In 2020, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Tommie Rae Hynie, the woman who claimed to be his wife, had never been legally married to Brown and had no claim on his estate. Justices also ordered a circuit court to proceed with probating Brown’s estate, following the directions of his estate plan.

Brown’s estate plan outlined plans for a trust to be created to use his music royalties to fund educational expenses for children in South Carolina and Georgia.

There had been a 2009 settlement plan that would have given almost half of his estate to a charitable organization, a quarter of his estate to Hynie and the rest to be divided among his adult children. That settlement was overturned in 2013, with a judge saying the settlement did not follow Brown’s wishes for most of his money to go to charity.

A professional manager had been brought in to take control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees to settle his debts.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with your estate so that something like this does not happen to you.

Reference: Associated Press (July 23, 2021) “Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate”

 

How Do I Disinherit My Child?

Disinheriting a child or any person trying to gain access to your assets after you have died requires skilled estate planning. The things that can be done before you die to protect your estate are the subjects of a recent article “Disinheriting a child” from Westfair Online. It should be noted that if you anticipate a challenge to your will, or if you suspect claims will emerge after you pass, it will be wise to prepare your estate and family members for the legal, financial and emotional aspects of an estate battle.

Here are some of the steps to consider.

Avoiding probate. The probate estate includes assets that are controlled by your Last Will and Testament on the day you die. It does not include assets where there are named beneficiaries. Such assets pass directly to beneficiaries.

Before a will can be executed, it must go through probate. Part of the probate process is the notification of any individuals who may be entitled to receive assets. If you pass away without a will, the estate still needs to be probated and those individuals must still be provided with a notice of your passing and the distribution of your assets. If you had intended to disinherit someone and did not take the necessary steps, it is as if you have issued an invitation to them.

Using a revocable trust. Trusts are used to remove assets from probate estates. A revocable trust is a trust that allows you to maintain complete control over the assets in the trust, while you are living. When you die, the trust does not go through probate and no one needs to be notified of the trust’s existence or its terms, if you so specify and state law permits. Your wishes and assets may remain private. This is especially useful, if you want to disinherit someone.

The revocable trust is not immune from contest, but it makes the challenging more difficult.

Changing titles to joint ownership and naming beneficiaries. Changing your bank, investment and real estate property ownership to joint ownership is a way to avoid probate and have assets pass directly to your intended beneficiaries. However, there are complications to this strategy. If the person you add to an account has money problems, your assets are now available to their creditors. If the person on the account goes through a divorce, your assets are legally available to their spouse. And if the joint owner should die before you, any protection you may have obtained is gone. A trust may be a better solution.

Review your retirement plans and any other assets that allow you to name a beneficiary to ensure that the person who will receive these assets is still the person you want.

What about a no-contest clause? It seems like a simple solution—by including a no-contest clause, often referred to as an “in terrorem” clause, anyone who seeks to contest the will immediately forfeits any distribution to that person, if they are not successful in the will contest. However, what if they are successful in the will contest?

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about these and other strategies to defuse a disinherited person’s potential claims. Disinheriting a child sparks many estate battles, so preparations need to be made to protect the family and the estate.

Reference: Westfair Online (Jan. 26, 2021) “Disinheriting a child”