Minnesota residents have likely read many media stories about bitter disputes between the relatives of celebrities who died without leaving behind a last will and testament. The legendary singer James Brown avoided this mistake by putting a complex estate plan into place before passing away at the age of 73. Brown’s estate plan included an irrevocable trust as well as a will, but his careful planning was not enough to prevent a dispute that gave rise to more than a dozen lawsuits and dragged on for 14 years.
The estate dispute, which involves Brown’s children, the estate’s administrator and a woman who was briefly married to Brown, began just days after the singer’s death. According to media reports, Brown’s funeral was delayed for almost two weeks because the parties could not agree on where he should be buried. The most contentious issues were the value of Brown’s estate and the disposition of his music royalties. Some of the parties involved said Brown’s assets were worth just $5 million. Others put their value at more than $100 million.
The parties announced on July 9 that a settlement had been reached after several months of mediation and all of the pending lawsuits would be dropped, but they provided no further details. In addition to putting an end to costly and protracted litigation, the settlement clears the way for a trust to be created to support Brown’s grandchildren and help underprivileged children in Georgia and South Carolina. Setting up the trust was one of the stipulations in Brown’s will, but no money was allocated to fund it because of the dispute.
Foresight and mediation
This dispute and its resolution show how bitter conflicts over sizeable estates can be and how mediators are sometimes able to help to dispute parties reach an amicable agreement when such an outcome seemed extremely unlikely. This case also reveals that careful planning does not always guarantee a happy outcome. Individuals who wish to prevent this kind of dispute could place their assets in revocable or irrevocable trusts to avoid the probate process. Doing this would also give them more control over how their assets are distributed after they pass away.