When James Brown left behind a detailed will and trust before his death in 2006, he couldn't have expected the battle that ensued between his children, a former wife, and the South Carolina Attorney General. After years locked in a will contest, the Supreme Court finally ruled that the Attorney General's actions, which effectively ignored the wishes of the soul superstar, were unjust.
When wills are contested, it's usually when the documents are unclear or haven't been drawn up by an experienced estate planning attorney. However, James Brown had made his final wishes perfectly clear as to where he wanted his considerable assets to end up. His personal property was to be divided between his six adult children, and $2 million put in a trust for his grandchildrens' education. The rest of his fortune was to be used in a charitable trust to benefit poor children and adults in their education needs, and he made it clear nobody else was to benefit.
After his death, Brown's heirs contested the validity of the will. A former wife claimed the right to a portion of his estate, along with her son, who was born after the will was drawn up. The Attorney General stepped in and awarded 25 percent of Brown's assets to the former wife, 25 percent to his children including the one who had been left out of the will, and just half for his charitable wishes.
The Supreme Court's Chief Justice stated what many estate planning attorneys and their clients may fear, that their wishes may not be carried out as planned after their death. It's important to always draft an updated version of wills and trusts with an estate planning attorney after any major life change, such as a marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.
Source: Forbes, "Court Scolds SC Attorney General For Hijacking James Brown Estate," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Feb. 28, 2013