Estate planning offers many advantages and protections to those who use legal tools properly and understand their limitations. However, many estate plans involve terms that are not possible to enforce, or create tensions between potential beneficiaries. Such seems to be the case with the estate plan of late soul music legend James Brown. By now, it has been over a decade since Brown passed away, but his estate remains unresolved.
Depending on which party you speak to, you may get a different story regarding who is at fault in the matter, and multiple parties contend that they deserve some portion of the Brown estate. One version of the conflict contends that several of Brown's potential heirs were not named beneficiaries in the will, cutting them out of any portion of its assets.
Some of the challengers also claim that his former wife made illegal arrangements with Brown, altering the designated owners of some of the copyrights to his musical creations. While this point remains unclear, it is important to understand that the laws that govern copyrights to create works do not allow a person to transfer ownership of a copyright simply in all circumstances. Many judges would not allow a will or estate plan that reassigns copyright ownership to stand, even if it were not challenged.
If you are still creating your own estate plan, or if you have not reviewed it in a while, be sure to understand the limitations of estate planning tools before you create a larger mess for yourself. An estate plan that cuts out hers or assigns rights to property that does not transfer easily may cause many conflicts and keep your estate tied up in legal challenges for many years to come. Don't hesitate to use all the tools you have available to protect your rights and priorities.
Source: New York Times, "Why Is James Brown’s Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers," Steve Knopper, Feb. 04, 2018