Poor Estate Planning by James Brown – Heirs do not “Feel Good”

James Brown, known as the “Godfather of Soul,” died on Christmas day last year.  During his lifetime, he was known as one of the hardest working entertainers in the recording industry.  Unfortunately for James Brown’s children,  their father did not  spend a little more of his attention attending to his estate plan.

In 2000, Mr. Brown made an estate plan which left his entire estate to his four grown children.  His will specifically stated “I have intentionally failed to provide for my other relatives or other persons, whether claiming or not to claim, to be an heir of mine or not. Such failure is intentional and not occasioned by accident or mistake.”  

Ten months after the will was drafted, Brown fathered James Brown II.  Shortly thereafter, he married the infant’s mother but did not enter into a prenuptial agreement.

Because of poor estate planning, James Brown’s four children are embroiled in estate litigation with their infant half-brother and his mother.

A good estate plan should address three basic issues:

  1. Avoid disputes about  funeral arrangements.  Due do squabbling among James Brown’s heirs, the burial of his remains was delayed for a period of three months after he died. 

  2. Unambiguously state who are the beneficiaries and what they are entitled to receive.  James Brown’s estate plan did not make any provisions for his wife.  He never executed a new will after he became married.  His will left his entire estate to his four named children. 

    Brown’s widow has a right to one-half of his estate under South Carolina law even if she is not named as a beneficiary under the will.  However, there is a question regarding the legality of Brown’s marriage because his wife did not receive a formal annulment of her prior marriage until three years after her marriage to Brown. 

    Nor were any provisions made for his youngest son who was born after the will was drafted.  Did Mr. Brown intentionally not revise his estate plan or was this an unintentional omission?

  3. Minimize estate admin-istration costs and estate taxes.  James Brown’s estate is estimated to be $100 million.  No planning was done to minimize estate taxes.  Almost half of the estate passing to his children will go toward payment of federal estate taxes. 

    This means that if Brown’s wife gets half of the estate, then the children will wind up with only a quarter of their father’s estate after-taxes.  They will most likely receive even less than a quarter of the estate after all of the estate administration ex-penses and legal fees are paid. 

    One of the co-executors was forced to resign only one month after Brown’s death because of allegations that he siphoned $350,000 from the estate.

    James Browns’ music was an inspiration to all of his faithful fans.  We should also be inspired to review our estate plan documents to make sure that we avoid the legacy of problems which he has left to his heirs.

Call me for an appointment to review your estate plan.

Kenneth R. Cohen, Esq.
(201) 791-7797