issues with the James Brown estate

After a 14-year battle over James Brown’s estimated $100 million estate, it appears “good” will finally prevail over the greed of Brown’s 4th “wife”.  The Supreme Court of South Carolina has recently ruled that Tommie Ray Hynie’s marriage in 2001 to the “Godfather of Soul” was invalid since she was married to Javed Ahmed at the time she married Brown.  She had argued that Ahmed had 3 wives in Pakistan and claimed her marriage to Ahmed was invalid due to his polygamous marriages when he married her and thus her marriage to Brown was good.  The Supreme Court of South Carolina overturned an appellate decision that had ruled in Hynie’s favor.  Even though Hynie annulled the marriage to Ahmed four years into her marriage to Brown (she neglected to tell Brown which lead to acrimony and she was left nothing in Brown’s will),  the Supreme Court ruled that there is precedent – you simply cannot be married to someone else unless the marriage was declared void prior to the marriage to another person.  The stakes are high.  Even though she was cut out as a beneficiary in Brown’s will, many states allow a spouse  (including South Carolina, but not Texas) to have what is called an “elective share” whereby the surviving spouse could be entitled to 1/3 of the estate.  Perhaps more importantly are the termination “rights” under U.S. copyright laws given to the author or his or her heirs after 35 years. So, even if the author sold his or her right copyright interest (and the revenues generated therefrom) , the copyrights revenues can be returned to the songwriter or his or her heirs after 35 years.   Prior to the Supreme Court decision, Hynie (as Brown’s spouse) sold her copyright termination rights (without advising Brown’s surviving children or grandchildren) to 5 of his songs for $1.9 million in 2015.  Brown wrote over 900 songs.  The termination rights are not part of an estate.  The court’s ruling means Hynie can no longer share in future copyright revenues or estate revenues.

Brown had set up a charitable trust (the “I Feel Good Trust”) for the benefit of needy children in South Carolina and Georgia.  His children and grandchildren were the other beneficiaries of his will.  Brown had a son, James Brown, II with Hynie after his will was signed in 2000.  James Brown, II will probably be included in the settlement of the estate.  However, Brown’s will did indicate any heir who challenges his will would be disinherited (several children and grandchildren did sue after he died).  Hynie will probably move that the Court reconsider the case (although the Supreme Count’s justices ruled unanimously).  The Supreme Court has asked Brown’s will now be probated.  Although this case has not been finalized in the 14 years since Brown’s death on Christmas 2006, it appears that the end is in sight.  This should make the beneficiaries of the charitable trust as well as his heirs “feel good” as  Papa has given them a brand new bag! 

If you would like to hear our podcast on this topic, click here.  

If you would like to know more, attend one of our free upcoming virtual Estate Planning Essentials workshops by clicking here or calling 214-720-0102.  We make it simple to attend and it is without obligation.

Skip to content