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James Brown’s contested will and estate


The estate of South Carolina native son and “Godfather of Soul” James Brown has been in a legal quagmire for more than 11 years. Since his death on Christmas Day 2006, Brown’s estate has not been settled due to a slew of lawsuits and constant bickering among his surviving children, grandchildren and widow.

Although Brown had a will with a bulk of the estate going toward a trust to distribute scholarships for children in South Carolina and Georgia, members of his family wanted it overturned. They claimed that Brown’s drug problems prevented him from making good decisions about his estate.

Unsettling: no settlement in James Brown estate

Whew! And you thought that you had difficulty with your family. The average South Carolinian won’t have to go through what James Brown’s heirs are experiencing. When it came to his estate, Brown did what he had to do in creating his will, but he likely never anticipated the ongoing squabbles between his children and his fourth wife.

Challenging a will is not unheard as we know from the high profile James Brown case. However, as with the situation of the singer of “I Got You (I Feel Good),” challenging a will can prove time-consuming, costly, and, ultimately, unsuccessful.

Contesting a will

There are a few common reasons for contesting a will, and here are some of them:

  • Not signing a will by following state law is a common way the document may be declared invalid. The testator – the person who wrote the will – must be of sound mind and in the presence of two witnesses when signing the document. The witnesses also must sign it.
  • If the person is not of sound mind, competence and may lack judgment due to ailments such as dementia and senility. This is the argument made by James Brown’s heirs.
  • If someone “unduly influenced” the testator into signing a will.
  • A fraudulently created will.

South Carolina does not recognize a “nuncupative” or oral will; one that is spoken and not written down. Another invalid will in the state is the “holographic” will, which is a handwritten document. For the latter, the state will accept one that has been validated from another state.

The vast majority of wills are problem-free when going through court. But still there are some, such as James Brown’s, that turn into an imbroglio filled with legal hearings, disagreements and hurt feelings.

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