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NC and SC Estate Planning and Elder Law Firm

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

James Brown's Estate

On January 18, 2007, the last will and testament of James Brown was admitted for probate in South Carolina. The late rock and roll legend had passed away on Christmas Day of 2006. But, almost 13 years later, his estate has yet to be fully resolved. The issues and complications that have come up during the probate process have stalled the process significantly.

Why Was James Brown’s Estate Stuck in South Carolina Probate Court for So Long?

One of the main issues that has taken considerable time during the probate process relates to Brown’s final marriage to Tomi Rae Hynie. Hynie married Brown in 2001 and was his fourth wife, however, whether or not the two of them ever had a valid marriage came up during probate. South Carolina probate courts were concerned as to whether or not Brown had a surviving spouse because of questions as to the validity of his final marriage. 

At the time of Brown’s marriage to Hynie, she was still married to another man. She married Javed Ahmed in 1997 and the two had never divorced nor had they annulled the marriage. Her marriage to Ahmed would invalidate her marriage to Brown due to South Carolina’s bigamy laws. It was revealed, however, that Ahmed had been married to three other women in Pakistan at the time he married Hynie, which means that their marriage had never been legal. 

South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that Hynie’s marriage to Ahmed was never valid because Ahmed was already married. This means that Hynie’s marriage to Brown was, in fact, valid and she should be considered Brown’s surviving spouse. Brown’s heirs, who have expressed continued concerns regarding the validity of Hynie’s story about her marriages, may still appeal the court ruling to the South Carolina Supreme Court. 

Another issue that came up during probate was the fact that the will that was admitted to probate was prepared by Brown prior to his marriage to Hynie. This means that the will did not provide for her at all. Because of this, Hynie brought an action to set aside the will and also claimed an elective share. An elective share allows a surviving spouse to claim one-third of the deceased spouse’s estate. In the alternative, the spouse who was omitted from the estate plan may seek a minimum of one half of the deceased spouse’s estate (if there are also surviving children) if the deceased spouse’s estate plan was prepared prior to their marriage resulting in the spouse being unintentionally cut out of the estate.

In addition to the above complex legal issues that had to be addressed during probate, there were also questions as to the true paternity of James Brown II. Other heirs of the estate expressed concerns as to whether Hynie’s son, James Brown II, was the true biological son of James Brown. The other heirs asserted that Brown had a vasectomy in the 1980s making it impossible for James Brown the II to be his true biological son. Two separate DNA tests, however, confirmed that he was Brown’s biological son.

There are also continued disputes regarding copyrights to Brown’s extensive music catalog.

Helping You and Your Family Through the Estate Planning Process

While few estates may prove as complicated to probate as James Brown’s is proving to be, the estate planning and probate process are involved. It is complex and it can be time-consuming. Monk Law is here to help your family with all of your estate planning and probate needs. We have the experience and knowledge base in this field of the law to navigate the terrain as smooth as possible. Contact us today.

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