The significance of having a clear, direct and specific will cannot be overstated; however, doing so does not necessarily mean that a will is indisputable. There are a number of reasons that people believe they can challenge the validity of a will, so it can be crucial to work with a reliable estate planning attorney and to update a will appropriately.
These issues were highlighted during the fight over the will of legendary entertainer James Brown. Even though Brown passed away in 2006, it has taken six years for the feud over his will to finally come to a close.
According to sources, Brown had drawn up a very clear will and trust leaving specific funds and assets to his family and wanted the rest of his substantial fortune to be donated to help underprivileged students in his home state. He was very outspoken in who should and should not benefit from his estate and people assumed there would be little room for ambiguity.
However, because he had drawn up the will in 2000, before an alleged marriage and the birth of another child, family members challenged the accuracy of the will. Additionally, claims of misconduct on the part of his trustees and estate planning attorney marred the legitimacy of the documents.
After six years of legal battles, court hearings and questionable settlement brokered by the state Attorney General, the state Supreme Court recently stepped in and made a final ruling on the execution of the will. It was ruled that a compromise offered in the Attorney General's ruling effectively destroyed the original intent of the will. The charitable donation portion of Brown's estate had been cut in half, and the alleged wife and son that were not included in the will were given a portion of Brown's assets.
The recent Supreme Court ruling noted that the original challenges to the will were not valid and the resulting compromise went against the Attorney General's duty to protect charitable trusts. It was also noted that the entire situation was completely avoidable and unnecessary. For six years, the challenges to Brown's estate plan prevented his final wishes from being carried out. While much of the blame falls on those who unfairly challenged his will, it is suggested that all of that could have been prevented if Brown had taken a few more precautions in the drafting and updating of his will.
Source: Forbes, "Court Scolds SC Attorney General For Hijacking James Brown Estate," Feb. 28, 2013