By Jason Stern
As a NYC will contest lawyer with two decades of experience fighting these contentious cases I can tell you two things about NY will contests. NY will contests are some of the most challenging cases any NY attorney will ever handle and also the most emotionally charged. It has been said that nothing brings a family together like the birth of a child. Well as an experienced NYC estate lawyer I can tell you nothing rips a family apart like a death that is superseded by a NY will contest.
Any NYC estate lawyer will tell you how absolutely invaluable it is to draft your NY will to prevent unwanted litigation after your passing. While it is true that having your NYC estate lawyer draft your will is an excellent start in and of itself your NY will cannot always prevent estate litigation or a NY will contest from occurring. For example, in NY a NYC estate lawyer cannot draft a will excluding your spouse from your NY attorney drafted will, absent a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement of course. Pursuant to EPTL 5-1.1, what NYC estate lawyers refer to as the Spousal Right of Election, states that all surviving spouses are automatically entitled to 33% of the gross assets of their partner’s estate. The NY Spousal Right of Election includes estate assets both probatable, solely in the decedent’s name at the time of their death AND non-probatable assets, assets that are jointly held or in trust for beneficiaries. Any NY will omitting a spouse is inviting if not guaranteeing a NY will contest proceeding. As such, as long as the surviving spouse can prove that he or she was validly married to the decedent at the time of their spouse’s passing, their NY will contest will succeed and the surviving spouse would receive their 33% elective spousal share when timely asserted.
Estate of James Brown
We all know James Brown was the godfather of soul. And when James Brown passed away on Christmas Day in 2006 he left behind an attorney drafted will distributing his more than one hundred million ($100,000,000.00) dollars of estate assets amongst his nine children and various charitable organizations. What we did not know is that James Brown omitted his third wife Tomi Rae Brown, formerly Tomi Rae Hynie, and their five-year-old son James Brown II entirely from his will. This would lead to an ensuing will contest which would be litigated for the next thirteen years which is still pending.
When he died James Brown left behind nine children from two prior marriages. James Brown also left behind his third wife Tomi Rae Hynie, depicted above, whom he married in 2001 after meeting the singer in Las Vegas. At the time the two met Tomi Rae Hynie was working as a Janice Joplin impersonator and backup singer on the Vegas strip. What James Brown did not know was that Tomi Rae Hynie was still married to another man, Javed Ahmed at the time of Brown’s marriage. This would normally be considered bigamy, the act of being married to more than one person at the same time without attaining a valid divorce. With the exception of certain parts of Utah bigamous marriages are illegal and would invalidate Brown’s marriage to Hynie disqualifying her from inheriting any assets from James Brown’s Estate.
However, Hynie was undeterred from asserting her spousal right of election, retaining a will contest attorney to challenge James Brown’s will despite the bigamous claims against her. Throughout the thirteen years that the will contest raged on Brown’s children argued that Hynie was not their father’s wife as she was married to someone else. Brown’s children claimed Hynie should not even be entitled to contest their father’s will which completely cut Hynie and their alleged son James Brown II out pursuant to the bigamous nature of their relationship. Interestingly enough, throughout the will contest proceedings, Hynie argued that while she was married to Javed Ahmed at the time she wed James Brown, it was Javed Ahmed who was actually in the bigamous marriage. Hynie claimed that Ahmed only married Hynie to become a United States citizen and that Ahmed was still married to three different women in Pakistan at the time of their wedding. After thirteen long years of the James Brown will contest, the Appellate Court finally agreed that Hynie was the legal wife of James Brown, and that Javed Ahmed was actually in three bigamous marriages with different women throughout Hynie’s marriage to Ahmed. Therefore, the Appellate Court determined that it was Hynie’s marriage to Ahmed that should be invalidated and that Hynie was free to marry Brown in 2001 making her James Brown’s legal surviving spouse. Thus entitling Hynie to her elective share of 33% of the James Brown Estate.
To make matters worse, throughout the thirteen year will contest of the Brown Estate, Brown’s nine children argued that in the 1980’s James Brown underwent a vasectomy to prevent himself from paternity lawsuits. So when he passed away in 2006 James Brown’s nine children also claimed he could not have fathered James Brown II born in 2001 and whom Brown had not provided for in his will either. After submitting to two different DNA tests James Brown II was proven to in fact be the natural heir of James Brown. However, the DNA test also revealed that at least one of James Brown’s other nine children were not biologically related to James Brown. And it is now that issue that the Surrogate’s Court is currently litigating.
So in this case, Tomi Rae Hynie may have actually proven that occasionally two wrongs do make a right. While Hynie may have entered her marriage to James Brown in bigamy, it was her previous spouse’s three bigamous relationships which nullified that marriage and deeming her the spouse of the late, great James Brown. However, if Hynie had not litigated that issue she would have received no portion of her late husband’s estate. As such if you think you or a loved one may have been wrongly excluded from a loved one’s will it never hurts to ask the opinion of an experienced NYC will contest lawyer to see what rights you may have under the NYC estate law. Feel free to call the knowledgeable NYC estate lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our Queens estate lawyers have 50 years of combined NYC estate law experience drafting, probating and challenging wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Richmond, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.