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James Brown survivors wait for SC judge to approve settlement ending 2-year estate dispute
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — James Brown's family could walk out of court on Friday with a brand new deal. If approved by a judge in South Carolina, a settlement over the late soul singer's estate would end a two-year legal saga.
Attorneys say it would divide Brown's remaining assets and give his beneficiaries the ability to make money using his music and likeness.
Half of Brown's assets would go to his charitable trust to educate his grandchildren and needy students in Georgia and South Carolina. The rest would be split between his surviving spouse and some of Brown's adult children.
It's a contrast to the instructions spelled out in Brown's will and trust filed less than a month after his death on Christmas Day 2006, but lawyers said they're done fighting over what many say is very little remaining cash.
The exact value of Brown's assets has not been made public during the numerous court hearings that have featured claims of unpaid debts, inadequate accounting and misappropriated money.
"Rather than take the delay, rather than pay the cost and rather than risk an all-or-nothing outcome, the parties who were most interested ... elected the wiser course, which was a settlement," Louis Levenson, an attorney for some of Brown's adult children, said this week.
A will filed in Aiken County on Jan. 18, 2007, called for many of Brown's personal possessions — clothes, jewelry, boats and automobiles — to be divided among six of his adult children. The makeup of Brown's charitable trust for needy children has been debated and at one point was said to contain most of his primary assets, including music rights and his 60-acre Beech Island home.
But the legitimacy of the will and trust was called into question by some of his adult children, who claimed their father's estate was mismanaged by trustees. Tomi Rae Hynie, the woman who says she is Brown's final spouse and the mother of his young son, also claimed the will and trust were not valid.
The proposed settlement includes a stipulation that Hynie was married to Brown and states that the six children and unspecified number of grandchildren mentioned in Brown's will are lawful heirs and don't have to prove it through DNA testing. It also says Hynie's son, James, who underwent a disputed DNA test, is a legal heir and biological child of the entertainer.
"To have it over and to basically have the court declare that she's the wife and James is the son will be the most wonderful thing that can happen to her," said her attorney, Robert Rosen. "She's been through two years of real anguish."
Brown, whose body remained unburied for nearly three months, was interred March 10, 2007, at the Beech Island home of one of his daughters. His children have said through an attorney they plan to turn home into a Graceland-like museum and build a mausoleum for his body.
Attorneys say Brown's assets will return to profitability through movies, song royalties and the sale of Brown's likeness. Levenson said projects are in the works but has declined to elaborate.
Rosen said Brown's legacy could use some repairing as well.
"All of this fighting has hurt the estate. There's been really nobody out there helping to promote James Brown as he should have been and I think that's a real tragedy," Rosen said. "It's just too bad that all of this has happened. I'm hoping that it can end Friday."
Not surprisingly, after months of contention, the disagreements will not likely end in court: In recent days, people who worked for Brown have said he wouldn't have agreed with the settlement.
Longtime Brown attorney and former trustee Buddy Dallas said Brown was adamant about when he asked what Brown was planning to do for his children.
"He came around the desk at me with his finger in my face and he said, 'Let me tell you something, Mr. Dallas. They are not going to live on my back when I'm gone.'" Dallas said. "Mr. Brown would not be a happy man."
Former Brown publicist Jacque Hollander said Brown often talked of leaving his money to needy children, first mentioning that plan in the early 1980s.
Her now-dropped lawsuit claiming Brown raped her in 1988 makes her and Dallas, former adversaries, unlikely allies in claiming that Brown didn't want his adult children to get his money.
But Hollander said she's put her differences with Brown aside for the moment to speak up for who she calls the true beneficiaries of Brown's estate.
"He'd say, 'For the kids,'" said Hollander, who on Friday hopes to speak in court against the settlement. "Nobody was going to tell him what to do with his money."