On August 1, 2000, James Brown executed a will in the presence of his attorney Strom Thurmond Jr.(the juxtaposition of the name of the son of one of our nation’s foremost supporters of segregation with the "Godfather of Soul" is not lost upon your blogger!) in which he excluded both his partner and their now five year old son . As CNN reports tonight, the plot thickens with the assertion by Brown’s attorneys that his subsequent marriage to his partner , Hynie was invalid because she had not yet annulled an earlier marriage at the time of her marriage to Brown.
I hestitate to speculate as to whether or not the state of Georgia will determine that Brown was legally married at the time of his death. I suspect that here in New York we would come to a finding that the annulling of an earlier marriage would render the subsequent union to be valid. In any event, the combination of a will which specifically excludes the person claiming to be the spouse of the deceased will certainly lead to a pitched battle to determine the validity of the marriage. Any rights that the state of Georgia might provide to receive a spouse’s elective share of an estate would be at stake here.
It is interesting to note that although Brown and his partner, Hynie never engaged in a ceremony of remarriage after her earlier marriage was annulled, Brown attempted to annul their marriage in 2004 but subsequently withdrew his annulment petition. Does that in and of itself constitute a recognition of the validity of the marriage ? Meanwhile, attorneys representing the estate have opined that Georgia law provides that if a will provides for one child of the decedent but fails to mention another, then that unmentioned child has absolutely no rights under the law no matter when he or she was born.
Please note the overall lack of certainty which pervades this article. It is intentional and is to prove a point. Specifically, it is necessary to recognize that the laws of our fifty states may be strongly similar in the area of wills, trusts and estates but they are in no way identical. Not only do we have black letter law which may have significant differences from state to state but the decisional case law of each state further colors its own laws.
Your blogger’s law license ends at the Hudson River as does my command of the law. No lawyer should give a client an opinion as to the law in a state in which he or she is not licensed. No person should assume that because a fact pattern will be treated one way in their home state that this interpretation will be universal across the fifty states. Be sure and get the considered opinion of a licensed lawyer in the state which is relevant to your legal problem.