When people in Michigan plan their last will and testament, they do so with the idea their final wishes will be followed to the letter of the law. Even though music icon James Brown’s estate plan specifically states that anyone who contests his will should not receive anything from his estate that is not how things have ended up. Instead of choosing to enforce that clause in his will, and in essence protect the very charitable organization Mr. Brown left the majority of his estate to, the assistant Attorney General in charge of the case chose to award more than half of Mr. Brown’s estate to parties who contested the will in probate litigation.

Mr. Brown placed the majority of his musical empire into a trust titled “I feel Good” with the intention of providing scholarships to poor, needy and underprivileged children in two states. He also provided educational trusts for his children and grandchildren of up to $285,000, along with some personal household items. Some of his children and his companion contested both the will and the trust. Another point of contention was the fact that a former trustee of the estate should pay restitution for millions of dollars that went missing from Mr. Brown’s estate.

Although that trustee was sentenced to serve 20 months of house arrest for allegedly taking more than $7 million from the Brown estate, he was never ordered to pay restitution. Court documents show that Mr. Brown earned upwards of $80 million between 1999 and 2006, when he died. In the October 2011 hearing, the assistant Attorney General indicated all the victim’s of the alleged theft from the estate had been notified, however none were present and none of the victim’s had filed statements on behalf of their interest in the estate. That fact has since been disputed.

The case has since turned into a blame game of finger pointing between the AG’s office, the probate court and the family members and beneficiaries of the charitable trust. Although this is a rather complex example of probate litigation, the majority of trusts and the administration of those trusts are not nearly as contentious or wrought with such drama. One can only assume Mr. Brown enlisted the services of a estate planning attorney, however it would appear his will and trusts were not as rock solid as he may have wanted.

Source: Electronic Urban Report, “James Brown: Court Arguments, Finger-Pointing, at Hearing on Restitution,” Sue Summer, Aug. 5, 2012

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