COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a settlement divvying up the multimillion-dollar estate of James Brown, saying a former attorney general didn’t follow the late soul singer’s wishes in putting together the deal.
Attorney General Henry McMaster brokered a settlement in 2009 that split Brown’s estate, giving nearly half to a charitable trust, a quarter to his widow, Tomi Rae Hynie, and leaving the rest to be split among his adult children.
But the justices ruled that the deal ignored Brown’s wishes for most of his money to go to charity. The court also ruled the Godfather of Soul was of sound mind when he made his will before dying of heart failure on Christmas Day 2006 at age 73.
The court sent the estate back to a lower court to be reconsidered.
The justices did agree with the lower court’s decision to remove Brown’s original trustees. Members of Brown’s family said they wanted them gone because the trustees mismanaged the estate until it was almost broke.
The court said it had no idea what the estate was worth, giving an estimate of $5 million to more than $100 million.
The justices harshly criticized McMaster, who stepped in to broker the settlement after the estate floundered in court for years. Under McMaster’s deal, a professional manager took control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees, wiping out crushing debt — more than $20 million Brown had borrowed for a European comeback tour — and opening 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.
Chief Justice Jean Toal suggested Wednesday 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.
The dispute came to the court after the ousted trustees sued.