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James Brown's estate plan, developments, instructive for readers

Legendary singer and entertainer James Brown died in 2006. The "Godfather of Soul" was about as high-profile of a media figure as is possible and a media favorite for lifestyle-based stories on his wealth and career.

Now, shortly six-plus years after his death, Brown serves as a reminder that the lives of celebrities often transcend the glaring details that boldly fan out from tabloid publications. Often, celebrity stories -- especially because they are widely read and considered -- can be instructive in important ways.

That certainly seems to be true in Brown's case. Obviously, the talented entertainer left behind a sterling legacy of musical accomplishments. Additionally, though, his name remains front and center in news stories for something that is centrally relevant to millions of people across a non-musical front, namely, estate planning.

From all indications, Brown proactively and with due consideration attended to his estate. He executed both a will and charitable trust and was quite explicit about his wishes. He provided for his adult children and grandchildren's schooling, and he evinced a strong desire to benefit disadvantaged youths and adults with their educational needs.

Somewhere along the line, ruled the South Carolina Supreme Court recently, Brown's desires were sabotaged and circumvented. The Court set aside a settlement secured by that state's attorney general following a challenge to Brown's will by his heirs, calling it "a total takeover of Brown's estate." The Court particularly found that Brown's wishes in regard to his charitable trust were being undermined unilaterally by the attorney general, who had stepped in pursuant to his role to safeguard charitable trusts.

Commentators on the matter say that Brown actually did many things right in his planning, having created "a detailed and specific set of documents."

What he failed to do, though, was to pay continuing attention to changed circumstances that occurred following the execution of his estate plan. He did not update documents or execute amendments that would have overcome challenges and helped to secure his wishes.

The Brown matter, as noted by the commentators, "underscores the importance of working with the right estate planning attorneys."

Source: Forbes, "Court scolds SC attorney general for hijacking James Brown Estate," Danielle and Andy Mayoras," Fe. 28, 2013

  • A well-considered and carefully executed will helps a testator define and set forth objectives that implement an estate plan as desired. Our firm has a deep well of experience providing our estate planning clients with comfort and legal certainty that fully promotes their wishes. For relevant information, please visit our Houston, Texas, Wills page.

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