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Mixed motives: the players in the James Brown estate battle

Last week we discussed the protracted litigation over James Brown’s estate. Ideally, a person’s wishes are respected upon death. The public nature of the probate process and errors in drafting a will can expose an estate to embarrassing publicity and infighting like the controversy that surrounds Brown’s estate.

One of the downfalls of the probate process is that a person’s will and asset list can become public documents. This means that phony creditors and people who claim to be relatives may materialize and try to claim a portion of the estate.

James Brown’s daughter told the New York Post that she expected people to “come out of the woodwork” and several people have. One woman who claimed to be Brown’s daughter even claimed that Brown’s body disappeared from a crypt on his real daughter’s South Carolina property.

Now Brown’s former producer alleges that Brown’s children took money that Brown wanted to go to charity. Brown’s daughter said that she challenged her father’s will because she did not believe that it reflected his true intentions.

The will gave personal effects to James Brown’s family and the rest of the money was to go into two trusts. One of the trusts was for the education of Brown’s grandchildren and the other was the James Brown “I Feel Good” Trust which will support the education of needy children in Georgia and South Carolina.

Legal challenges such as the lawsuit of the former producer have stalled payouts. The producer alleges that she and Brown cofounded the “I Feel Good” Trust in 1987 and, as the surviving founder, she wants control over the trust and the funds, The New York Post reports.

Family members are skeptical over the motives behind the producer’s lawsuit. The producer claims to advocate for Brown’s wishes, but the producer and Brown fell out dramatically in 1988 after the producer accused him of raping her at gunpoint.

Brown’s estate also made headlines when one of its trustees was jailed for failing to return a $373,000 royalty check accidentally sent to him.

Although no attorney can prevent all will contests or scamsters, an experienced estate planning attorney can help prevent embarrassing public controversy by helping with the selection of responsible estate trustees and by establishing a solid will and trusts if necessary.

Source: The New York Post, “James Brown’s ex-producer fighting family over his estate,” Isabel Vincent, Melissa Klein, 4/3/11