Celebrity Estate Lessons - James Brown
June 21st, 2022
James Brown died from a heart attack due to pneumonia on Christmas Day 2006. He had created a Will and Trust in 2000. As a side note, the Will was witnessed by J. Strom Thurmond Jr., son of the long serving Senator.
The Will covered his personal belongings while the Trust covered his music rights, business assets, and South Carolina estate. As these documents were written before his marriage to his fourth and final wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, and before his son James II was born, neither of them were included in them.
In 2007 two lawsuits were filed. One was by Hynie who asked to be recognized as his widow and to appoint a special administrator for the estate. The other was filed by his children to replace the personal representatives due to claims of impropriety.
The lawsuit to declare Hynie a widow is more difficult than you might think. When she married Brown, she was still married to Javed Ahmed, although the marriage was never consummated. He disappeared shortly after the wedding, only wanting US citizenship. Ahmed, at the time of this marriage, already had at least 3 wives in Pakistan.
Courts found that Hynie was his widow, based on the fact that her previous marriage was invalid and that Brown had stopped attempts to annul their marriage. Rulings were filed in 2015 and 2018. In 2020, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that, since her prior marriage had never been dissolved, she was never legally married to Brown. In 2021, Hynie and the family reached a settlement. The Hynie/Ahmed marriage was annulled in 2004.
James II's claim was also initially dubious, as Brown had a vasectomy in the 80's, specifically to avoid these sorts of problems. James II took two DNA tests, both of which proved Brown's paternity.
The second suit is based on the laws relating to copyright rules for his songs. In brief, a law allowed artists to terminate deals made early in their music careers after a set time and reclaim those rights. If Hynie was named a widow, she would have a 50% stake in the estate and would therefore had veto power.
Starting in 2013, a consultant tried to get the kids to sign away their copyright termination interests for cash, which would mean less money. Hynie also notified publishers that she was going to exercise her right on 138 of his songs. They didn't tell anyone else. The final deal was written to exclude the children and primarily benefit Hynie.
His estate was eventually sold to Primary Wave, a company that handles the estates of musicians once they've passed. The details are not public, but less than $2 million is going into a Trust for his grandchildren. Most of the rest of his estate will be going to scholarships for children in South Carolina and Georgia, in accordance with his wishes.
Say it with me friends, "Keep your estate up-to-date." It solves so many problems before they even begin. Contact Harrison Estate Law to learn more.