The Michael Jackson Estate was back in court this week. The first order of business for the judge was to approve the appointment of Katherine Jackson and the guardian for the children, after she and Michael's ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, reached a deal allowing it.
Doctor Arnold Klein showed up to voice objections to the arrangement, saying he had a "unique interest" in the children's welfare. Because he had no legal right to contest the guardianship (he's not a relative, although media reports suggested he may be the biological father), the judge refused to hear him. There are rumblings that Dr. Klein may still lodge a fight for the children, so watch out for that.
The judge then ruled that Michael Jackson's will (which you can read here) was formally admitted to probate. Katherine removed her petition objecting to it, allowing the two named executors John Branca and John McClain to continue serving in that role.
Think this means the fight to control the estate is done? Think again. The case will return to court in early October on Katherine's petition to allow her manage the estate with (or possibly instead) of them. Michael's will named three executors, and one chose not to accept the appointment. Katherine wants to fill that vacant role, or at least have another family member do so; but she is also asking the judge for permission to have the co-executors disqualified.
The Associated Press carried a very interesting story about how Katherine was very involved in Michael's business decisions while he was alive, and that she was his most trusted business confidant. Which, of course, leads to the big question -- why didn't he name her as one of the executors of his will?
This article suggested there may be tax implications if she had been, because she is a prominent beneficiary of his trust, reportedly entitled to 40% of his estate (with 40% going to the kids, and 20% to charity). That explanation does not make sense, however. People can be both executor or trustee and still be a beneficiary -- it's done all the time.
The real reason, in my opinion? Michael was sloppy. The Associated Press article said he changed business managers often. Which means, he should have changed his will and trust often too. Just because he may have changed his mind about the people he trusted to manage his business affairs, it doesn't mean that there will be a change in who would be executor or trustee. That only would happen if Michael actually signed a new will and/or trust -- or if Katherine Jackson's attorneys convince the judge that the two currently acting executors aren't suitable to act in that role.
As I've already written, if Michael did his estate planning properly, he wouldn't need to have this whole mess sorted out in court, because his trust would control rather than his will (wills always have to pass through probate court, trusts generally do not).
So, it seems to me, that the King of Pop didn't take the time to update his will and trust when he should have. Perhaps, had he done so, he would have given legal authority to his mother or other family members.
But he didn't, so the family will return to court -- again -- to sort this issue out.
Unless, of course, they reach a deal. And that is possible. One of the executors reportedly said that they are open to the idea of Katherine serving as co-trustee and having a say in business affairs of the estate and trust. They are in negotiations for that possibility right now.
In the meantime, the judge did give Katherine the right to review the big contract the co-executors signed for the estate, for a reported $60 million. This deal with AEG and Columbia will reportedly allow a movie and other ventures involving the rehearsal footage for Jackson's last concert tour, which never happened because of his untimely death. You can read the details here.
I've said it once, I'll say it again. Stories like the Michael Jackson Estate saga serve a valuable lesson. Don't put off updating your will and trust. Doing so often creates a mess for your loved ones to sort out after you're gone. Visit a good estate planning or elder law attorney now!
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+