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Wilson v. Dallas

Supreme Court of South Carolina
743 S.E.2d 746 (2013)


Facts

The singer James Brown executed a will and created the 2000 Irrevocable Trust (Trust). Albert Dallas, Alfred Bradley, and David Cannon (defendants) were named personal representatives of Brown’s estate and co-trustees of the Trust. The will devised Brown’s personal and household effects to six named children: Deanna Thomas, Yamma Brown, Vanisha Brown, Daryl Brown, Larry Brown, and Terry Brown (plaintiffs). Brown’s will bequeathed the remainder of his estate to the Trust. Under the terms of the Trust, its assets would be divided into two subtrusts: (1) one designed to provide for the education of Brown’s grandchildren, which was capped at $2 million for tax purposes (the Family Trust), and (2) one whose assets were to be used toward the education and assistance of poor children and young adults (the Charitable Trust). The bulk of Brown’s substantial estate would, therefore, be part of the Charitable Trust. Brown’s will and Trust each contained a no-contest clause, under which any beneficiary who challenged either document would be deprived of her entire interest. Both documents further provided that any relatives of Brown who were not identified in the will or Trust were intentionally disinherited or omitted by Brown. The Trust also specified that Brown did not intend any of the Trust estate to go to a former or future spouse. The following year, Tommie Ray Hynie (plaintiff) gave birth to a son purported to be Brown’s. Six months later, Brown and Hynie wed after having executed a prenuptial agreement in which Hynie waived any right to an interest in Brown’s estate after his death. Brown later sought to annul the marriage, because Hynie had apparently been married to someone else during the first two and a half years of her marriage to Brown. Ultimately, Brown and Hynie resolved the dispute after Hynie agreed to waive any claim of a common law marriage. After Brown died, Hynie and five of Brown’s six children named in the will filed claims against Dallas and the two other representatives/trustees in a South Carolina court, seeking to set aside the will and the Trust on the ground of undue influence. The plaintiffs sought a distribution of Brown’s estate through the laws of intestate succession. Hynie contended that she was entitled to an elective or omitted share in the estate and that her son should participate as an omitted child. [After the original representatives/trustees resigned or were removed, the court appointed two new representatives/trustees: Robert Buchanan, Jr. and Adele Pope (defendants). Ultimately, the court approved a settlement reached between the plaintiffs and Alan Wilson, the South Carolina Attorney General, who had intervened in the matter because of the Charitable Trust. Buchanan and Pope did not approve the settlement. As part of its terms, the court removed and replaced Buchanan and Pope with another fiduciary. Buchanan and Pope appealed both the settlement approval and their removal and replacement.]

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Holding and Reasoning (Beatty, J.)

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