There are a tiny handful of entertainers that reached the status of legend while they were still alive and performing, and without question James Brown, the inimitable “Godfather of Soul,” was one of them. He changed the face of the music industry over his long and illustrious career and captured just about every accolade imaginable. Four of his albums made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the top 500 albums of all time, and he was a Grammy winner who was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Brown died in 2006 on Christmas day, leaving behind a legacy that is estimated to be worth about $100 million. He married a woman named Tomi Rae Hynie some five years prior to his death and was married to her at the time of his passing. He had at least nine children including a son, James Brown II, that he had with Hynie.
James Brown had an estate plan in place when he married Hynie, and he never updated it during their marriage. The plan that he had left all of his wealth to a special trust that was to be administered for the benefit of poor children. Brown was born into extreme poverty in South Carolina so his decision is understandable given his own background–up to a point.
James Brown may have provided for anonymous needy children, but he left no provisions for his own nine children or his widow. As a result, they have challenged his estate, and the matter has been playing itself out in the courts for over four years now.
The matter of the James Brown estate shines a light on what can happen when you do not update your estate plan to reflect your current family situation. It also provides some insight into why you may want to seriously consider how your family members may react to your decisions and ask yourself if it is worth the potential trouble to exclude people as close to you as your wife and children.