Here's Who Inherited Etta James' Estate After She Died

When Etta James died on January 20, 2012, at the age of 73, the world lost one of the most distinctive yet dynamic voices in the history of popular music. Her career lasted more than half a century, and while her peak years came early on, her influence has been enormous. Notably, James had a profound effect on the vocal stylings of megastars who emerged in her wake, especially female vocalists such as Janis Joplin and Beyonce Knowles.

James' funeral was a major event, and she was hailed by her fellow musicians as one of the greatest singers of all time. However, her story was also mired in controversy concerning her personal life — particularly her heroin addiction. She abused the drug in the 1960s, and it threatened to derail her career as she increasingly stole from friends to pay for drugs. In later life, James suffered from chronic ill health, with debilitating conditions such as leukemia and dementia. This led to a much-publicized disagreement over the executorship of her estate. After a legal battle, her family was able to settle the issue, and her husband controlled her estate when she died — though it later changed hands to an estate company.

Legal wrangling

In December 2011, major news outlets published the sad news that the legendary singer Etta James was terminally ill. Her doctor, who had cared for her since 2010, asked fans to pray for her in her final days. But news that all was not well in terms of the James' estate came earlier that year when it emerged that her husband and conservator, Artis Mills (pictured, second left), was suing James' son Dondo (far right), who has a different father. Mills wanted access to three of the singer's bank accounts, which together held an estimated $1,000,000, per the Los Angeles Times. He argued that the money was necessary for James' round-the-clock care, which included a personal doctor and chemotherapy treatments.

Dondo, who was born of a different father, gained power of attorney over James' estate in 2008, and while he and his brother Sametto (far left) claim that they did so with James' consent, Mills argued that the singer was not of sound mind when she made the decision. In the end, the court ruled that $350,000 should be released and that Mills would remain conservator of her estate, per the Los Angeles Times. In the wake of the revelations, law experts from several practices published articles highlighting how the legal wrangling over Etta James' estate shows the importance of proper estate planning to mitigate the risk posed in later life by diseases such as dementia.

Who controls her estate now?

Artis Mills had control of Etta James' estate at the time of her death on January 20, 2012. She had been hospitalized in 2010 with a blood infection, though complications of leukemia were listed as her cause of death. However, Etta James' official website shows that it is now looked after by an estate management company — Etta James Estate Management: Brian Schwartz and Amy Abrams. Details of how her husband and sons split her fortune are not publicly available.

James continues to be thought of as one of the most legendary voices in the history of music. In the wake of her death, sales of James' music rose a staggering 378% (per NME), while musicians continue to draw on her for inspiration to this day. In 2023, New York singer Wé Ani stunned the judges with a rock version of the Etta James classic "Something's Got A Hold Of Me."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).