Court Overturns James Brown Estate Settlement

James Brown

Court Overturns James Brown Estate Settlement

The battle over the soul legend’s fortune reaches the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Published February 27, 2013

(Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

James Brown apparently wanted to leave his fortune to charity before family members stepped in, according to a recent ruling in the South Carolina Supreme Court. The state justices nixed a settlement brokered by former Attorney General Henry McMaster in 2009 that failed to follow the dying wishes of the Godfather of Soul and split the majority of his multi-million dollar estate among his family.

Following Brown's passing from heart failure on Christmas Day in 2006, a court battle ensued between the music legend’s family and a group of trustees that the family claims mismanaged his estate. The court was unable to establish the true worth of Brown’s fortune, estimating anywhere between $5 million and $100 million.

The Supreme Court agreed with lower court's decision to revoke the power of Brown's original trustees, but ruled that McMaster and family members' new deal did not honor Brown's wish for most of his money to go to charity. After ousting his trustees, an agreement overseen by McMaster gave almost half of the estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to Brown’s widow, Tomi Rae Hynie, and the rest to his adult children.

The court's final ruling was that Brown was of sound mind when he wrote his will before passing at age 73. Chief Justice Jean Toal explained that if allowed to stand, the lower court's decision would compromise the rights of people who want to leave most of their estate to charity in spite of their family’s wishes. Many of the members who received money in McMaster’s deal were excluded or given limited devises in Brown’s will.

The dispute was brought before the state's Supreme Court after the ousted trustees sued. A similarly combative controversy surrounded handling of Brown's remains following his death. Brown’s body sat in storage for two months as family fought in court over his remains before he was eventually laid to rest in Beech Island, S.C., at the home of one of his daughters.


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Written by Calvin Stovall


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