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Decision in estate of James Brown a sign that charitable trusts are to be respected

More than six years after the death of legendary soul singer James Brown, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a critical ruling that may finally allow a legal dispute to wind down. At his 2006 death, Brown left a detailed will and trust indicating that he wanted his personal and household possessions divided between his six adult children, two million dollars to go to a trust for the education of his grandchildren, and the rest going to a charitable trust.

The charitable trust-Brown was a charitable man-was intended, to be used for education assistance for poor children and young adults attending schools in either South Carolina or Georgia. The documents indicated that he did not want anyone else to benefit, including past or future spouses, or others who may or may not be his children, and instructed his trustees to fight anybody who contested his wishes. So what happens after his death? His heirs and a woman claiming to be his wife challenge the validity of his will and trust!

In 2009, a settlement was eventually approved by the probate judge after a series of court hearings, and two acting trustees of the charitable trust were removed. They later appealed, arguing that the settlement was not in accord with Brown's wishes. Nearly four years later, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the settlement was inappropriate and unjust.

The ruling was an important one for those who leave money to charitable trusts. It is a signal that the legal system will take their stated wishes seriously and enforce them when heirs and other claimants seek to ignore them.

Source: Complete Music Update, "James Brown estate agreement overturned," March 4, 2013

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