In Re: The Estate of James Brown a/k/a James Joseph Brown The Estate of James Brown; James Brown Irrevocable Trust Agreement, u/a/d August 1, 2000, by and through its fiduciaries Russell L. Bauknight, Personal Representative and Trustee, and David C. Sojourner, Jr., Limited Special Administrator and Limited Special Trustee, Respondents, and Tonya Brown, a/k/a Sarah LaTonya Brown, Vanisha Brown, Larry Brown, Deanna J. Brown Thomas, Jason Brown Lewis, and Yamma N. Brown Lumar, individually and on behalf of her minor children, Sydney Lumar and Carrington Lumar, Respondents, and Daryl Brown and Terry Brown, Respondents below, Of whom Terry Brown is the Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2016-001373
Submitted December 6, 2018
From Aiken County Doyet A. Early, III, Circuit Court Judge.
Brown, of Eastanollee, Georgia, pro se.
Levenson, of Levenson & Assoc., of Atlanta, Georgia, for
Respondents Vanisha Brown, Larry Brown, Deanna Brown Thomas,
Jason Brown Lewis, and Yamma N. Brown Lumar; J. David Black,
of Nexsen Pruet, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondent Russell L.
Bauknight; Lyndey Ritz Zwingelberg and John Fisher Beach,
both of Adams and Reese LLP, of Columbia, for Respondent
David C. Sojourner, Jr.; Ittriss J. Jenkins, of Law Office of
Ittriss J. Jenkins, of Charleston, for Respondent Tonya
estate controversy, we must decide whether some of the
beneficiaries (the Probate Code defines them as
"successors") under a Will can agree to settle an
action they brought to contest the Will and the accompanying
Estate plan without the consent of all the beneficiaries. We
hold that, under the unique circumstances of this case, they
can because the settlement neither binds the non-settling
beneficiaries nor changes the Will or the Estate plan.
2000, the legendary singer and entertainer James Brown
executed a Will that devised his personal property and
household effects to his six children and poured over the
remainder of his estate to a charitable and educational
Trust. Brown died in 2006. His Estate has been ensnared in
relentless litigation ever since. See, e.g., Wilson v.
Dallas, 403 S.C. 411, 416, 743 S.E.2d 746, 749 (2013).
Several of his children and grandchildren-whom we shall refer
to as "Respondents"-contested the 2000 Will and
Trust, seeking to set them aside on the grounds that he
lacked testamentary capacity and had been unduly influenced.
2015, the Estate and the Trust, acting through the Personal
Representative, the Trustee, and the Limited Special
Administrator and Trustee (the Fiduciaries), reached a
settlement of the will contest with Respondents, wherein each
Respondent agreed to dismiss their will contest claims in
exchange for payment of $37, 500.00. Respondents would retain
other rights, including (as to the Respondent children) the
devise of personal property under the Will. The Fiduciaries
presented the settlements to the circuit court seeking
confirmation of their authority to enter them on behalf of
the Estate and Trust, a procedure contemplated by §
62-3-105 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2018). Two of
Brown's children-Terry Brown, who never contested the
Will and Trust, and Daryl Brown-opposed the settlements and
their confirmation. After a hearing, the circuit court
entered an order confirming the Fiduciaries' authority to
enter into the settlements. The circuit court further ruled
Respondent children had probable cause to contest the Will
and the Trust, and the settlement was just and reasonable.
Brown (Appellant) now appeals, claiming the Fiduciaries
lacked authority to enter the settlements because his consent
was required by §§ 62-3-912, 62-3-1101, and
62-3-1102 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2018). He further
contends the circuit court erred in finding probable cause
and in finding the settlements just and reasonable.
to Appellant, under South Carolina law there are only two
ways to settle a will contest: by entering into a private
family settlement agreement as provided by § 62-3-912,
or presenting the settlement to the court for approval as
provided by §§ 62-3-1101 and 1102. Because he
contends both ways require the consent of all successors,
Appellant claims the settlements here are invalid because he
did not agree to them.
issues Appellant raises require interpretation of several
sections of the Probate Code, which are questions of law that
we review de novo. Univ. of S. Cal. v. Moran, 365
S.C. 270, 274-75, 617 S.E.2d 135, 137 (Ct. App. 2005);
see also Barton v. S.C. Dep't of Prob. Parole &
Pardon Servs., 404 S.C. 395, 414, 745 S.E.2d 110, 120