No One Feeling Good About Battle Over James Brown Estate

James Brown was known for his signature song, “I Feel Good,” but no one is feeling good about the battle that was still being waged over his estate over a decade after his death in 2006.

The majority of Brown’s estate – estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars – was distributed via his will to the I Feel Good Trust to provide scholarships to underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. None of those estate proceeds have been distributed to date, due to ongoing litigation between Brown’s fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, his seven children and the trust.

It is hard to imagine a bigger legal mess than the one created by Brown’s death. He has seven children and during the estate battle several more people stepped forward claiming they were Brown’s children as well. The legality of his marriage to Hynie has been called into question. Two sets of trustees have already been removed from the case.

The South Carolina Attorney General brokered a deal in 2009 to split the estate’s assets, with half going to the trust, a quarter to Hynie and a quarter to be split among his children. That deal was dissolved by a South Carolina Supreme Court decision last year that found the state had overreached its authority in the matter and disregarded Brown’s final wishes.

The latest twist is a decision in mid-January 2015 by a South Carolina judge granting a journalist’s Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to emails that include appraisals of Brown’s assets and discussions about Hynie’s diary as well as how much the state should pay a local law firm involved in the fight over the estate.

Meanwhile, the estate continues to earn millions from Brown’s recordings, and has paid millions to creditors, lawyers and other debtors. However, not one dollar has been given to the scholarship program Brown envisioned.

While a challenge to Brown’s will may not have been preventable considering the number of relatives he left behind, titling a majority of his assets to the trust before his death may have stemmed the tide of ongoing litigation and provided the funds for the education of children he wanted to help. And since a trust is private, unlike a will, it could have prevented the public scrutiny over his affairs.

This is a common error made by estate planning lawyers, even those hired by wealthy people like James Brown.  Unfortunately, whether you have significant financial wealth or not, the impact is the same on your family — if your assets are not titled properly in a trust at the time of your death, your family will end up in Court. It’s a guarantee.  Let us help your family stay out of Court.

A Note from the Attorney, Stan Pierchoski:

The practice of law is a second career for me. After obtaining Master of Science degrees in both Nuclear and Mechanical Engineering, I worked in the Nuclear Power Industry for 15 years. Always having an interest in law, I attended and graduated from law school and founded the Pierchoski Law Firm in 2002 in Pulaski, TN. For several years I practiced as a criminal defense, trial attorney. After my parents passed I became interested in Trust and Estate Law and felt a strong calling to change my practice to the Estate Planning area.

For years I have been exclusively doing trust writing and wealth planning and have become proficient at it. Over the last several years my practice has evolved to serve all age groups including elders and Medicaid Planning. I am always open to your questions and am more than happy to chat with you about your concerns so give me a call or stop by my office. You’ll be glad you did!