No matter your age, you likely know the name “James Brown”. Known as the Godfather of Soul, Brown
died back in 2006, yet his estate was just recently settled by the South Carolina Supreme Court after a
six year long battle. As is often the case, the rest of us can learn something from the probate litigation
that followed Browns’ death.
Brown left behind a sizeable estate—the majority of which was left to a charity according to his estate
plan. Brown established a charitable trust to help poor children and adults with educational expenses.
To his six grown children, he only left his personal and household belongings to be split equally. A
$2 million trust was also created to pay for the education of his grandchildren. No one else received
anything. His children contested the Will; however, Brown’s terms were fairly clear where they were
concerned. What Brown failed to do, however, was update the estate plan to be equally clear with
regard to his new wife and alleged child who was born after the 2000 estate plan was created.
While Brown did make it clear that no one else should receive anything from his estate, courts are
reluctant to completely disinherit a wife or child when they are not specifically mentioned or when they
become heirs after a Last Will and testament is executed as was the case with Brown’s Will. As a result,
the case spent years in litigation and was not settled until the South Carolina finally resolved the issues
The simple lesson here is that had Brown sat down and updated his estate plan after his remarriage, or
at least after the birth of his new child, much of the time and money spent on the estate battle could
have been saved.
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