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James Brown Estate Settlement Overturned in South Carolina

State supreme court rules deal ignored the singer's wishes

James Brown in London.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
February 28, 2013 8:20 AM ET

James Brown's multi-million dollar estate was improperly divided after his death, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled.

The Associated Press reports that the court overturned a 2009 settlement brokered by the state attorney general that gave nearly half the singer's estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to his widow and a quarter to be shared among his adult children. That arrangement ignored Brown's wish for most of his money go to charity. A lower court will reconsider settlement of the estate.

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The justices criticized the former attorney general, Henry McMaster, who helped reach a deal after the estate had languished in court for years following the singer's death on Christmas Day in 2006. McMaster's deal removed Brown's original trustees, who the singer's family accused of mismanaging the estate to the point where it was almost broke. A professional manager took control, paid off more than $20 million in debt and made it possible for needy students to receive scholarships for college. The settlement also allowed a financial manager to license Brown's music for use in commercials, which have included spots for Gatorade and Chanel perfume. 

While the justices agreed with the decision to remove the original trustees, who subsequently sued, the judges said the settlement could discourage people from leaving their estates to charity for fear their wishes would be ignored.

"The compromise orchestrated by the AG in this case destroys the estate plan Brown had established in favor of an arrangement overseen virtually exclusively by the AG," Associate Justice John Kittredge wrote. 

McMaster, who left office in 2010, said he respected the court's decision but stood by the deal he struck.

A lawyer for one of the trustees who sued praised the ruling, which he said was more in keeping with Brown's wishes.

"James Brown was certainly devoted to the cause of education," said James Richardson, who represented former trustee Adele Pope. "Today's decision means that the bulk of his fortune will go to the cause of educating needy children."

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