In January 2018, a lawsuit was filed in California regarding the estate of the singer James Brown. It is one of more than a dozen challenges filed since his death in 2006, and their steady stream means that the underprivileged children he hoped to help as well his other beneficiaries have not received any of the assets intended for them.
The estate administrator and Brown’s widow are the targets of the January lawsuit. This one alleges that his wife made illegal agreements with the estate regarding song copyrights. Other lawsuits have argued that Brown’s alcohol and drug problems meant that he was not of sound mind when he created his estate plan.
Brown had set up the I Feel Good Trust to provide scholarships for children in Georgia and South Carolina. The bulk of his estate was supposed to go to the trust with $2 million set aside for the education of his grandchildren. He also willed effects such as costumes to the six children he recognized. The worth of these was estimated at $2 million. A settlement had been proposed giving a quarter of the estate to his widow and a quarter to Brown’s children and grandchildren, but this was overturned. There have also been disputes as to whether the woman’s marriage to Brown was legal.
There are a few things a person can do to reduce the likelihood that an estate plan will be challenged in this way. One is to talk to family members about the estate plan so that they understand it and know what to expect. However, there might be a lot of conflict in the family that makes this impossible. Another option might be setting up trusts and choosing trustees who are good with conflict resolution. An attorney may be able to suggest other ways to help ensure an estate plan is less vulnerable to challenges.