While most estates take much less than a year to probate and administer, it has taken 15 years to settle the estate of James Brown. The Godfather of Soul died with an estate plan in place, but there were questions about his marital status, number of children, and the rights to his music which have led to several intense legal fights. The Palmer & Slay team has been following this case with interest for over a decade.
Bigamy, A Rumored Vasectomy & Copyright Confusion
At the time of his death, James Brown was living with his fourth wife and had somewhere between 9 and 13 children.
Brown’s fourth wife, backup singer Tomi Rae Hynie, was not mentioned in his estate plan. The plan was created before they were married, and before the couple’s son was born. However, Hynie was married to someone else when she and Brown tied the knot in 2001, and her child’s paternity was in question since Brown allegedly got a vasectomy in the 1980s.
To further complicate things, Hynie’s other husband also had three other wives. When this was revealed, Hynie sought to have her earlier marriage annulled, but Brown moved to have his marriage to Hynie annulled. During this same period, Brown was arrested for domestic violence against Hynie. The couple ultimately settled their differences and continued to live together until Brown’s death.
When Brown passed away, Hynie petitioned the courts to recognize her as Brown’s widow. Because their marital life was so complex it took until 2020 for the case to work its way up to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled that Hynie was not married to Brown.
A few years ago, a paternity test proved Hynie’s son was fathered by Brown. Brown officially recognized nine children. A few other people claiming he is their father have come forward.
However, how many kids Brown had was not the thing everyone was fighting about. Brown left relatively little money to his children. The bulk of his estate is instead earmarked for scholarships for underprivileged children. The main question tying up the estate was who has control of Brown’s vast catalog of songs?
This summer the family settled its disputes. The terms of the agreement are not being revealed, but it sounds like everyone is saying “I Feel Good”!
Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones.
Most of us don’t have estates as large as James Brown, or families as complex as his, but that does not mean that our loved ones will not struggle to settle our estates. The best way to prevent disagreements, and make things easier on your grieving loved ones, is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to clearly spell out your last requests. If you live in the Brandon, Mississippi area, the Palmer & Slay PLLC team would be happy to discuss your estate planning options with you. Please contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.