Godfather of Soul–Family Feud over James Brown estate

By Jennifer Felten

In 2006, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, passed away. The very next day a public feud began when his purported wife, Tomi Rae Hynie,
returned to the family estate only to find padlocks on the gates and security personnel guarding the property. The validity of Hynie’s marriage to Brown, and the paternity of a child born to Hynie while she was cohabitating with Brown, have been in dispute ever since.

James Brown left a last will and testament. The will failed to name Hynie or her son as beneficiaries. Upon learning of the exclusion of herself and her son from the will, Hynie filed suit challenging the will. Brown’s adult children are fighting that suit and have filed papers challenging the validity of Brown’s marriage to Hynie and the paternity of Hynie’s son.

In her lawsuit, Hynie has asked the court to recognize her as Brown’s widow. For most people marital status is an easy question to answer. This has not been the case for Hynie. She and Brown did marry in 2001, but he filed for an annulment in 2004, after learning that she was already married to another man, Javed Ahmed. While Brown was still alive, Hynie took action to annul that marriage on the grounds that it was invalid because Ahmed was already married to several women in his home country at the time of his marriage to her.

Due to the granting of Hynie’s annulment from Ahmed, Brown abandoned his annulment action against Hynie. The validity of Hynie’s marriage to Brown was still in question, however, as the marriage between Brown and Hynie occurred prior to the granting of her annulment from Ahmed. If the annulment were valid from the time of its granting, that would have invalidated the marriage between Brown and Hynie as that marriage would have occurred at a time when Hynie was already married, making it bigamous and illegal. This month, the court found otherwise, finding the marriage between Hynie and Brown valid.

In its reasoning the court found that bigamous marriages, like the one between Hynie and Ahmed, are void from the start, meaning Hynie was not married to another man when she married Brown. Based upon this ruling Hynie could be entitled to a share of the Brown estate, which is estimated at $100 million. To date no paternity test of Hynie’s son has occurred to determine if he is Brown’s son.


Jennifer Felten, Esq., Partnerfelton, LLP, www.hhlawgroup.com, 699 Hampshire Road, Suite 105, Westlake Village, CA 91361, (805) 265-1031, [email protected].  Ms. Felten specializes in representing both individuals and legal entities, providing representation and guidance on a variety of real estate related matters.


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One Response to Godfather of Soul–Family Feud over James Brown estate

  1. Citizen Reporter February 19, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Sounds like Brown’s intent might have been to be married, but technically it was invalid. And why did Brtown omit her and son, whoever the real daddy is, from the will? What a mess. Will need a Solomon as a judge.


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