The South Carolina Supreme Court overturned a settlement of the estate of James Brown saying a former S.C. attorney general did not follow the Godfather of Soul’s wishes.
On Wednesday, high court justices said former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster did not follow the late soul singer’s wishes in putting together the deal for his multimillion-dollar estate and remanded the case back to Circuit Court in Aiken to reach a new agreement.
“The agreement served to transfer a large portion of the estate assets to persons who had been specifically excluded from Brown’s will, in contravention of his stated desires,” Associate Justice John Kittredge wrote.
Chief Justice Jean Toal suggested that, if the settlement was allowed to stand, it could discourage people from leaving most of their estate to charity for fear their wishes could easily be overturned.
Toal wrote, “the AG has taken unprecedented action in this case...excluding its trustees and banding together with parties who stand only to gain from” Brown’s will being ignored.
The justices harshly criticized McMaster, who stepped in to broker a settlement. Under McMaster’s deal, a professional manager took control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees and opened the way for needy students to receive college scholarships. The plan allowed a financial manager to cut lucrative deals that put Brown’s music on national and international commercials for products such as Chanel perfume and Gatorade.
Current attorney general Alan Wilson said Wednesday that he did not believe McMaster had acted illegally.
The court also ruled Brown was of sound mind when he made his will.
The soul singer died of heart failure on Christmas Day 2006 at age 73. There followed a long, complex and arduous litigation process that resulted in a compromise settlement. There was praise of how circuit court Judge Doyet A. “Jack” Early handled the case. “The circuit court did a commendable job in attempting to sort out this difficult situation,” Kettridge wrote.
The James Brown Irrevocable Trust would have receive 50 percent of his estate, his wife 25 percent and his other heirs 25 percent.
The fight over Brown’s estate even spilled over into what to do with his body. Family members fought over the remains for more than two months, leaving Brown’s body, still inside a gold casket, sitting in cold storage in a funeral home. Brown was eventually buried in Beech Island at the home of one of his daughters. The family wanted to turn the home into a shrine for Brown similar to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but that idea has not gotten off the ground.
The Assosiated Press contributed to this report.
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