The settlement, brokered by Attorney General Henry McMaster in 2009, of the estate of James Brown, was overturned on Wednesday by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
In the settlement, nearly half of it was given to a charitable trust, a quarter to his widow, Tomi Rae Hynie, and the rest went to his children.
However, after ruling that Brown was of sound mind when he made his will, the Supreme Court sent the estate back to a lower court to be reconsidered. They said that Brown’s wishes for most of his money to go to charity were ignored.
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.
McMaster, who stepped in to broker the settlement after the estate floundered in court for years, was severely criticized by the justices. Chief Justice Jean Toal suggested if the settlement was allowed to stand, it could prevent people from leaving most of their estate to charity because of fear their wishes could easily be overturned.
The trustees sued and the dispute came to court.
Associate Justice John Kittredge wrote, “The compromise orchestrated by the AG in this case destroys the estate plan Brown had established in favor of an arrangement overseen virtually exclusively by the AG. The result is to take a large portion of Brown’s estate that Brown had designated for charity and to turn over these amounts to the family members and purported family members who were, under the plain terms of Brown’s will, given either limited devises or excluded.”
Brown’s body lay in his gold casket in a funeral home for more than two months because family members argued about what to do with his body. He was eventually buried at the home one of his daughters in Beech Island, South Carolina.
The family wanted to turn the home into a shrine for Brown similar to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but that idea has not gotten off the ground.