The 15-year battle over James Brown’s estate has finally been resolved as the soul legend’s heirs have reached a settlement agreement.
Brown died on Christmas Day in 2006. Since then, the singer’s many heirs — children, grandchildren and an ex-wife who was ultimately eliminated as an heir after it was revealed she was still legally married to someone else when she wed Brown in 2001 — have fought over the estate, resulting in a dozen lawsuits and legal bickering that tied up the singer’s publishing rights and desired charitable endeavors.
However, on July 9th, all parties involved reached an agreement over the direction of the estate valued at anywhere between $5 million and $100 million — depending on the perceived value of Brown’s publishing and copyrights — David Black, an attorney representing Brown’s estate, told The Associated Press.
The terms of the agreement were not revealed and remain sealed, but the New York Times reports that the settlement is expected to give heirs termination rights over Brown’s preexisting publishing deals over Brown’s 900-song catalog as well as the focal point of Brown’s 2000 will, to “fulfill Mr. Brown’s noble estate plan to fund scholarships,” the estate’s administrator Russell L. Bauknight said in a statement.
Under the terms of Brown’s 2000 will, the singer left the majority of his assets in a trust to establish scholarships to underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. However, the implementation of that trust was delayed by the dispute of the will, which bequeathed very little in terms of money to his heirs; they only inherited Brown’s possessions and stage costumes, as well as $2 million to be used solely for his grandchildren’s education.
Complicating matters was Brown’s 2001 marriage to former backup singer Tommie Rae Hynie, who — although the pair were in the process of having the marriage annulled at the time of Brown’s death — acted as the singer’s widow, setting up copyright deals amid the battle over the estate, the New York Times reported.
However, in 2020, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that Hynie was never legally married to Brown since her previous marriage remained intact at the time of her 2001 wedding, a ruling that eliminated her as an heir; however, Hynie and Brown had a child together who remained an heir, keeping Hynie involved in the settlement process.
The heirs previously reached a settlement deal in 2009 that was overturned in 2013 by then-South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, who argued that the agreement did not adhere to the wishes of Brown’s 2000 will, the Associated Press reports.