James Brown left most of his fortune to charity.

James Brown left most of his fortune to charity.

Brown’s bequest to charity contested by his wife and children

The long-running dispute over soul singer James Brown’s estate continues, after a freelance journalist filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for financial and personal documents of the estate to be produced.  A South Carolina judge ruled that private emails concerning the diary of Brown’s widow and other documents must be produced.

James Brown died in 2006 and since then, his estate has been tangled up in estate disputes. At the time of his death, his estate was worth about $100 million. Brown wanted to give the majority of his fortune into a trust to provide education for under-privileged kids in South Carolina and Georgia.

Less than a month after his death, his seven children and fourth wife contested the will. His children alleged that the executors of the will, friends and advisors of Brown, had unduly influenced the singer, taking advantage of Brown’s drug problems to have him sign a will he didn’t fully understand. The then Attorney-General of South Carolina brokered a deal after several years of bitter dispute, in which the trust received half of the estate, his wife received a quarter, and the remaining quarter was split between his children.

However in 2013, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the settlement, saying that it contravened Brown’s wishes for most of his money to go to charity. The estate was taken back to court when the executors were removed, citing financial mismanagement. The executors sued the estate. The Supreme Court denied the claim of diminished capacity, stating that Brown’s wishes for his estate were clear.

James Brown’s music has remained popular and generates millions of dollars each year in royalties for the estate. Nearly ten years after singer died, not one person has received a penny from his estate.

What if I want to leave money to a charity?

In Queensland, the law expects will makers to reasonably provide for their spouse, children, and any other dependents (such as step children).

A study by the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology found that challenges to charitable bequests by the testator’s family members have become more common. The report, Family Provision Applications and Bequests to Charity says: ”Courts are vigorous in upholding proper family provision as against charitable bequests, portraying the family provision as based on moral obligation. The original purpose of family provision law was to enforce the proper maintenance and support of a testator’s spouse and children.”

In other words, the courts seem to prefer family members being looked after over bequests to charities.

As always, the law is complex and you should always seek specialist legal advice when drawing up a will.