“This stuff wouldn’t happen to Elvis Presley,” says a son of legendary musical artist and entertainer James Brown, who died in 2006.
The alluded-to “stuff” is collective, complex and enduringly knotty. A recent New York Times article refers to the protracted estate battle to which it pertains as “a petri dish for cultivating legal disputes.”
Seemingly, anything that might have even remotely gone wrong concerning Brown’s estate plan — which a justice from one state’s Supreme Court has called “carefully crafted” — has done so. Reportedly, an astonishing 12-plus estate-related lawsuits have been filed since the mega-entertainer’s death. The most recent filing was in a California federal court just last month.
The current mess exists despite what was apparently a good deal of reflective thought given by Brown to his estate prior to his passing. His will set aside money for his grandkids’ schooling, sought to transfer valuable possessions to his children and established a trust leaving millions in scholarship funds for underprivileged youth.
As the Times reports, though, “not a penny has gone to any of the beneficiaries of his will.” In fact, that document has been challenged more than once on grounds alleging Brown’s incapacity to act competently owing to drug problems. Moreover, the recent California litigation makes claims by many of Brown’s children that his widow unlawfully transferred valuable termination rights to the singer’s rich catalog of written and performed music.
It seems highly unlikely that things will sorted out anytime soon. One commentator says that, “You really need a map to go through this whole thing.”
Even the estate’s value is hotly disputed, with estimates ranging from about $5 million all the way up to $100 million.