Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate

James BrownEntertainer James Brown's family has reached a settlement that will end a 15-year battle over the late singer's estate. David Black, an attorney representing Brown's estate, confirmed to the Associate Press, "that the agreement was reached July 9. 

The legal battle had been going on since his death at the age of 73 on Christmas Day 2006. James Brown's death led to a slew of "bizarre headlines, beginning with Tomi Rae Hynie—a former partner who claimed to be Brown's wife—being locked out of his 60-acre (24-hectare) estate while photographers captured her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in." 

There were over a dozen lawsuits filed by people attempting to get their hands on Brown's assets, which have been estimated to be worth anything from $5 million to more than $100 million. 

Brown was renowned for hundreds of iconic musical works including hits like “I Feel Good” and “A Man’s World,” and was known around the world for his flashy performances and dynamic stage presence. But years of drug problems and financial mismanagement caused his estate to dwindle.

The war over Brown's estate did not just include his assets, there was also a fight over what to do with his body. Brown's family fought over his remains for more than two months, "leaving Brown's body, still inside a gold casket, sitting in cold storage in a funeral home." 

Last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Hynie had not been legally married to Brown and did not have a right to his estate. 

Justice also ordered a circuit court to "promptly proceed with the probate of Brown's estate in accordance with his estate plan, which outlined creation of a trust that would use his music royalties to fund educational expenses for children in South Carolina and Georgia." 

According to AP News: 

A 2009 settlement plan would have given nearly half of Brown’s estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to Hynie, and the rest to be split among his adult children. The state Supreme Court overturned that deal in 2013, writing that then-Attorney General Henry McMaster — now the state’s governor — hadn’t followed Brown’s expressed wishes for most of his money to go to charity, having instead selected a professional manager who took control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees to settle debts.

See Meg Kinnard, Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate, AP News, July 23, 2021. 

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  


Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, New Cases | Permalink


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