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Chain of Fools

When Aretha Franklin died last week after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, she allegedly did not leave a will. She is survived by her four sons, one of whom has special needs, who will receive equal shares of her estate. Her niece asked to be appointed as representative of her $80 million estate. Aretha’s copyright attorney told reporters that when there is no will, “there will always end up being a fight.”

Some points of relevant interest:

1. No one wins a long battle with pancreatic cancer. See Jobs, Steve.  Prepare a will.

2. When a woman dies without a will, there should not be much to dispute because there are no illegitimate children to contest heirship.

3. The niece’s fee for serving as personal rep. could be $1.6 million.  One of the sons should have dibs on this role.

4. Surprisingly, Madonna did not ask to be appointed as personal representative.  

Photo Credit:  Jae C. Hong/AP

License:  Fair Use/Education (from linked article)

Give It Up or Turnit Loose

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, died in 2006. His estate is still unsettled due to myriad lawsuits. He had intended to leave $2 million for scholarships for his grandchildren, memorabilia to his children, and the rest to a charity for scholarships for children from SC and Georgia.

Lawsuits have involved whether a woman should have been trustee, whether people should have been removed as trustee, the paternity of a son, and the validity of Brown’s marriage (his wife reportedly was married at the time of their marriage) plus the run of the mill will contest suits. The most recent suit involves whether his wife could sell the rights to his songs.

Two points:

1. There are no good lessons here. If heirs want to fight, they will find reasons to fight and no planning can prevent that.

2. I always preferred the music of Brown’s contemporaries, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, both who died tragically young. One benefit of dying young is that there is no large estate to fight over nor large family to fight.

 

Photo Credit:  Michael Holahan/Augusta Chronicle, via Associated Press and linked NYT article
License:  Fair Use/Education

Please, Please, Please (Settle This Estate)

James Brown died in 2006 and left most of his estate to charity.  A woman claiming to be his wife is contesting the will.  Tomirae Hynie and the Godfather of Soul married in 2001 but she was married to another man at the time.  She eventually had that marriage annulled in 2004, but Brown then refused to marry her because he was embarrassed about the prior marriage.   Hynie has stated that her prior marriage to her Pakistani husband was simply an immigration scam.  Brown named 6 children in his will and left out 5 others.  To benefit from his estate, the children have been ordered to submit to DNA testing to prove their parentage.  Those that pass are called DNA Proven children.

Several points:

1.  By law, spouses are entitled to a portion of a deceased spouse’s estate even if not provided for in the will.  In Ohio, spouse’s with more than one child will receive one-third of the estate.

2.  I have never heard the term “DNA Proven children” before.  I think it ranks with “thunder snow” as a great modern phrase.

3.  Hynie is very determined to inherit when she admits under oath to committing immigration fraud.  Although given recent events, that might not be the serious matter one would initially believe.

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Someone Will Cry, Cry, Cry

It has been a busy month for the James Brown estate.  First a federal court rejected the attempt of his former manager to insert herself into his estate affairs.  Now, the South Carolina Supreme Court has rejected a settlement regarding the division of his estate that was brokered by the SC Attorney General and said that the estate must be distributed per Mr. Brown’s will (i.e. most to the trust for its charitable beneficiaries).

Quick facts.  The Godfather of Soul left most of his estate to a trust for the education of needy children.  His relatives asked the probate court to remove the trustees of the trust after the trust assets dissipated to almost nothing.  I suspect that they also challenged the terms of his will.  The SC Attorney General (on behalf of the trust) convinced the parties to settle the dispute with  the trust receiving half of the assets, Brown’s widow 1/4, his adult children the final 1/4 and the trustees replaced by other trustees who made lucrative licensing deals for the trust.

Several points:

1.   The SC Supreme Court is correct – the terms of the will should be followed.  Estates are not like other business deals or disputes where the intent of the deceased can be negotiated.  The intent as expressed in the will must be followed.  Otherwise, people would not have confidence in making wills or leaving assets to charity.

2.  The settlement does seem to have been beneficial to the estate because the new trustees were able to increase its value from near zero to somewhere between $5 million and $100 million (nice specificity on that).

3.    The estate owed $20 million to a bank borrowed for a European tour.  Apparently lunacy in the lending markets in 2006 was not confined only to the sub-prime housing market.

Talking Loud and Saying Nothing

James Brown died in 2006.  His estate moved a step closer to settlement this week after  a federal lawsuit filed by his former business partner was dismissed.  After years of litigation, the estate was to be divided between his wife, his heirs, and his “I Feel Good Trust.”

However, his former pr woman and song writer claimed to have worked with him on the child welfare trust in the 1980s and that his intent was to leave all of his assets to it.  She claimed that the South Carolina attorney general had ignored her, that 100 attorneys had refused to take her case because they were politically intimidated, and that she has a right to be heard and to exert control over the distribution of funds.

Several points:

1.  The court was correct to dismiss the case.

2.  How a probate related case which is handled at the state level lasted 16 months in a federal court is perplexing.

3.  An estate plan can easily change multiple times over 20 years so what James Brown wanted in 1980 could differ greatly from what he wanted in 2006.

4.  It is advisable to ensure that estate planning documents reflect current wishes.

5.  Sorry, sweetheart, but no one has “a right to be heard”  nor do they have the right to exert control over funds unless they are the trustee.   You were simply channeling one of James Brown’s hits.

 

 

 

 

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All Posts By Jay Brinker

I am an attorney located in Cincinnati, Ohio who practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, asset protection, and small business advice. I make a difficult and bewildering process as simple as possible. Most importantly, I provide "more for less" for my clients.