It's Year 11 of a war over will left by singer James Brown

Not a cent has gone to any of the beneficiaries of the late singer James Brown's will, who include underprivileged children in Georgia and South Carolina. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK - It seems fair to say, 11 years after James Brown's death, that his estate planning has failed in its major mission: to distribute his wealth efficiently.

Not a cent has gone to any of the beneficiaries of his will, who include underprivileged children in Georgia and South Carolina.

But as a petri dish for cultivating legal disputes, Brown's will may have few rivals.

More than a dozen lawsuits related to the estate have been filed since he died in 2006, including one filed last month.

In that case, nine of Brown's children and grandchildren are suing the estate's administrator and Brown's widow Tommie Ray Hynie, asserting that she made "illegal backroom agreements" with the estate involving copyrights for songs Brown wrote.

Another lawsuit challenges whether she actually ever was his wife.

Brown's life as the Godfather of Soul was a bit messy too, marked by divorce; estrangement from some of his children; and arrests on drug, weapons and domestic violence charges.

That kind of instability fed, in part, the first effort to overturn the will, in which several of his children and grandchildren said his drug problems had prevented him from making sound decisions about his estate.

The will had set aside US$2 million (S$4 million) to underwrite scholarships for the grandchildren, and it gave his costumes and other household effects to the six children he recognised, a bequest thought to be worth perhaps another US$2 million.

But the bulk of the estate was to be given over to the I Feel Good Trust, which he set up to distribute scholarships for children from South Carolina, where he was born, and Georgia, where he lived for much of his life.

After the will was challenged, the South Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster, who is now the governor, proposed a settlement: Brown's children and grandchildren would receive a quarter of the estate and Ms Hynie would receive another quarter.

But the state's Supreme Court overturned the settlement, arguing that the move amounted to a "total dismemberment of Brown's carefully crafted estate plan".

The value of the estate itself also remains very much a matter of debate. The administrators of the estate have suggested in court papers that it could be worth less than US$5 million but others have given estimates as high as US$100 million.

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