Tuesday, February 26, 2013

South Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Testator (in this case the Godfather of Soul) Rights

Financial Planning is reporting on a South Carolina Supreme Court case that tells the State Attorney General to respect testator intent.

James Brown laid out clear intent in his will to provide for the education of the poor in Georgia and South Carolina. However, there was a claim against the estate from a woman who claimed to be legally married to Brown after he made the will and their son, who was also born after the will was made.

After prolonged litigation, the State Attorney General stepped in on the basis of representing the rights of the intended charity, settled the matter. Part of the settlement included removal of the current trustees of the charity. They sued and ultimately the state Supreme Court took a look and determined that the AG overstepped his bounds in removing the trustees and settling with the woman and son.  The Supreme Court stated, “The compromise orchestrated by the AG in this case destroys the estate plan Brown had established in favor of an arrangement overseen virtually exclusively by the AG.” 

This case highlights the high value American jurisdictions place on testator intent. Of course, this case also highlights the need to review your estate planning documents as your circumstances change, such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of children.