It is something of a rarity that a case involving a decedent's estate goes to a state Supreme Court, but then suit from South Carolina is somewhat special, in that it involves the estate of James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," who died in 2006.
The estate had been embroiled in problems and litigation after his death, with issues of financial mismanagement by the trustees and large-scale debts. A deal was created by the South Carolina Attorney General, Henry McMaster in 2009 that solved some of the financial problems, but altered Brown's intentions.
Brown had left a significant portion of his estate to a charitable trust, designed to help students in need with college scholarships. The deal by McMaster gave a quarter of the estate to his widow and some to his adult children.
The South Carolina Supreme Court noted that settlement differed from the intent expressed in Brown's will, by giving large sums of money to relatives. The court worried that allowing the settlement to stand could discourage people from leaving money to charities, if their wills could be undone so easily after their death.
Because of the financial issues, the Court was unsure of the actual value of Brown's estate, but it could be between $5 million and $100 million.
Challenges to wills after the death do not happen often, but they can be expensive to the estate and emotionally taxing to the beneficiaries, as with the Brown case, they can drag on for years.
The best defense to these types of issues is a clear and complete estate plan that forecloses challenges.
Source: Huffington Post, "SC court nixes James Brown estate settlement," Meg Kinnard, AP, Feb. 27, 2013