Shortly before Christmas 2002, Ray Charles called a meeting of his 12 children at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. Ten of them, ranging in age from 16 to 50 -- with 10 mothers among them -- listened as their father told them he was mortally ill and outlined what they could expect from his fortune.

Most of Charles' assets would be left to his charitable foundation. But $500,000 had been placed in trusts for each of the children to be paid out over the next five years, according to people at the meeting and a trust document.

Yet Charles' description left so much to the imagination that some of the children came away with the impression that he meant to leave them $1 million each. Charles also hinted that there would be more for them "down the line," which some interpreted to mean they would inherit the right to license his name and likeness for profit.

The confusion and contention that resulted from that family gathering, the only time so many of the children met with their father as a group, helps explain what has happened since. Charles exercised iron control over his music and recordings, but his legacy is in disarray, knotted up in legal disputes between the estate's management and his family members, according to interviews, court documents and correspondence from the California attorney general's office.

Born Ray Charles Robinson in rural Georgia in 1930, Charles died at 73 in Beverly Hills on June 10, 2004, after a long battle with cancer. In lawsuits filed against Charles' former manager, several of his children have asserted that their father's legacy has been mishandled by the manager and others associated with Ray Charles Enterprises, which holds the rights to his music, and the Ray Charles Foundation.

At issue are not only money and the family's standing but also the fate of thousands of musical recordings, videotapes and other artifacts produced during Charles' long career. Professional estimates place the value of Charles' original masters at about $25 million -- on top of the $50 million he held in securities, real estate and other assets.

Charles' children are hoping to win control of the marketing of their father's name and image, and a greater voice in foundation affairs.

"No one is as committed to RC as his family," said Mary Anne Den Bok, an attorney who is the mother of Charles' youngest child, Corey Robinson Den Bok.

The foundation, which Charles originally established as the Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders, has come under the scrutiny of the California attorney general's office, which at one point objected to its control by a single executive, without an independent board.

That executive, Joe Adams, is the target of the family's complaints. Adams signed on as Charles' manager in 1961. Toward the end of the artist's life, Adams was perceived by Charles' children and others close to him as controlling access to the star.

After Charles' death, Adams ended up with virtually unchallenged power over the estate. He was head of Ray Charles Enterprises, director of the foundation and trustee of the children's trusts. In some cases, co-officers appointed by Charles departed their roles while Adams remained.

Family members contend that Adams' leadership has tarnished the image of the artist, who was known for decades as the "Genius" -- a title bestowed on him by Frank Sinatra. Adams' actions, along with those of other executives of the estate, have "distorted and trivialized" the value of the Charles name, alleges a federal lawsuit that Den Bok filed in the name of her son and nine of his siblings.

Adams, 86, declined requests for an interview. However, Jerry Digney, his spokesman, called the assertions "old, baseless allegations."

The family blames Adams for the release of two posthumous Ray Charles CDs that, in a departure from Charles' usual practice, were remixed from work he left behind and overdubbed with tracks by other singers. Both were commercial disappointments, even though they were released after the 2004 Oscar-winning biopic "Ray" had increased interest in Charles' music.

The children have been unable to obtain an accounting of the estate, in part because their legal right to the information is murky.

Adams has kept the children and other family members from participating in ceremonies honoring their father, they say, even his funeral.

Adams interrupted a private family service at the Angelus Funeral Home in Los Angeles, attempted to eject some of the participants and ordered the casket removed from the chapel, according to several people who were there.

"The biggest issue with me is disrespect for the family and kids," the Rev. Robert Robinson, one of Charles' sons, said in an interview. "If you respect a man and his work, then you respect his kids. His blood is flowing through our veins."

Charles' 12 children are widely dispersed. Six call California home, and one lives abroad. Four are especially involved in controversies over the estate: Robert, 46; Ray Charles Jr., 52, whose mother, Della Robinson, was married to Charles from 1955 to 1977; Raenee Robinson, 46, who is currently fighting a lawsuit filed by Adams over her right to market items bearing her father's image; and Corey, 20.