It has been nearly five years since the death of James Brown, but the litigation over his estate rages on. After his death in 2006, the icon that was James Brown was poised to become a beacon of hope and opportunity for many underprivileged children. Brown had stated in his will that nearly the entirety of his estate (then valued at approximately $100 million) was to be placed in a trust to help educate children in need in South Carolina and Georgia.
But nearly five years later, not a single child has benefitted from James Brown’s generous bequest. Less than a month after his death, Brown’s seven children and fourth wife contested the validity of the will, and, since then, the entire case has spiraled out of control. What was once a straightforward, charitable bequest became a litigation mess involving dozens of lawyers representing numerous factions.
Brown was known to have been passionate about the cause after his experiences raising money for children’s hospitals during the 1980’s. Nevertheless, his family—with whom Brown was not very close at the time of his death—claimed that he had received bad advice in regards to his will and did not know what he was signing.
In 2009, a deal was made by the then-State Attorney General that recognized the validity of the will but split the estate between the children’s trust and Brown’s family. The legal costs were to be covered by the trust.
Even after the 2009 deal, however, neither side has received a dime of the estate. Outstanding appeals prevent the money from being allocated while continuing to generate legal costs—to the detriment of the trust. As the estate dwindles, so does hope that the remaining money will be able to have a lasting, positive effect on the children in need.