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Probate judge approves James Brown estate settlement

After years of feuding, and months of waiting since reaching a deal, the Godfather of Soul's family and beneficiaries finally have put the will and trust contest lawsuit to rest.  My article about the lawsuit and the tentative settlement is here.James Brown

The settlement, reached in January, seemed to resolve a dispute about whether Brown's marriage to Tomi Rae Hynie Brown was legitimate (her prior marriage may not have been legally ended before she married Brown) and whether Hynie's son, James Brown II was really his son.  Brown's will and trust left nothing to them -- but he hadn't updated them since his marriage to Hynie.   Why didn't he update his estate plan during the five years of his marriage before he died on Christmas Day, 2006?  We'll never know, but the law assumes his omission was accidental.

The settlement gave about one-quarter of his total estate and trust assets to Hynie and her son, another quarter to his six adult children, and one-half to charity (through his charitable trust).  The probate judge in South Carolina presiding over the estate initially refused to approve the settlement, wanting more information and concerned about whether it was fair enough to the charitable beneficiaries. 

Apparently, the probate lawyers in the case convinced the judge to change his mind.  Yesterday, the judge issued a written order approving the settlement.  He also directed that the Brown family create a museum or other memorial burial place for Brown.  The family fought in the past where his body would rest (it's now buried at one of his daughter's homes). 

Reportedly, millions in legal fees have already been spent, just to get to this point.  Yet, sadly, this may not be the end of the James Brown family feud.  Prior claims that were denied are now likely to be appealed -- included lawsuits by a prior estate administrator and a former Brown employee. 

Probate litigation lawsuits, including will and trust contests, are often expensive and never pleasant. Those involved are always wise to consider settlement before breaking the bank.  When to settle, and for how much?  Those are questions you need an experienced probate litigation attorney to help answer. 

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at awmayoras @

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