The one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s shocking death on June 25, 2009 is upon us. While his music and thriller dance moves live on, unfortunately, so do the legal battles over his estate. Let’s moonwalk backwards through the past 12 months to review the courtroom clashes and combative issues involving the King of Pop’s estate.
June 29 – Katherine and Joe Jackson, Michael’s parents, file to open the probate estate of Michael. They allege that he died without a will and ask for Katherine to be appointed to administer his estate. Katherine filed to be appointed as guardian of Michael’s three children the same day and is granted temporary authority to assume custody of them.
July 1 – John Branca, Michael’s former attorney, and John McClain, his former manager, file their own probate petition, asking the Judge to appoint them as executors of Michael’s estate based on a will Michael signed July 7, 2002. The will names Katherine as the person Michael wanted to care for his children, with Diana Ross as the back-up. The assets are left to the Michael Jackson Family Trust. Estimates of the estate’s value exceed $500 million, despite reports that there was so much debt to render Michael Jackson insolvent.
July 6 – Over Katherine’s strenuous objections, the Judge appoints Branca and McClain as the estate executors on a temporary basis.
July 20 – Katherine’s attorneys lose a preliminary battle in court when the Judge denies Katherine’s legal team the right to see important documents impacting the estate, such as the contract over his concert tour that was canceled when he died. But, she wins the right to be guardian of the kids permanently because Debra Rowe (the biological mother of two of the kids) withdraws her claim to be guardian.
August 6 – Katherine agrees not to challenge the 2002 will during a court proceeding, but reiterates her desire to have Branca and McClain removed as executors, asking the Judge for permission to file a legal petition to disqualify them.
August 24 – According to the LA Coroner, Michael’s death was a homicide caused by too many drugs.
September 3 – Michael’s body is laid to rest.
September 17 – Court documents are revealed showing that Katherine Jackson receives $86,000 per month to support herself and the three kids. Of interest is her monthly $1,000 “grooming allowance.”
September 18 – The Judge gives Katherine permission to challenge the estate executors for “undue influence” without losing her rights as a beneficiary. This set the stage for a challenge that Branca and McClain improperly convinced Michael to name them as executors in his will, instead of Katherine or others.
October 22 – Reports surface that Katherine changed lawyers. The new lawyers plan to take her case in a “new direction” based on “new evidence.” Michael’s brother, Randy, says Michael may not have signed the will because he was in New York the day it was allegedly signed in Los Angeles.
October 28 – The This Is It movie, from a deal inked by Branca and McClain on behalf of the estate with Sony, is released. The movie earns $50 million for the estate (and hundreds of millions of dollars for Sony).
November 10 – Katherine Jackson, represented by new lawyers, drops her legal challenges to Branca and McClain serving as executors. Lawyers for Joe Jackson are shocked over the “secret deal” and called it “despicable.” Joe sues to pick up the claim that Katherine dropped, but the Judge denies his request because he is not a beneficiary.
February 3, 2010 –The Judge approves a request by Branca and McClain to receive 10% of all new deals they sign for the estate (excluding the movie profits and previously-released music).
March 17 – It is widely reported that Branca and McClain ink a deal with Sony to release new Michael Jackson songs through a seven-year deal with Sony, for a whopping $250 million. This nets them each $12.5 million in fees.
May 30 – A British website posts a copy of Michael Jackson’s Trust, which is usually a private document. It reveals that Katherine gets the use of 40% of his assets during her lifetime (the balance then goes to Michael’s children), the children receive 40% of the assets, and 20% is taken off of the top of the Trust assets for charities.
June 20 – Billboard magazine reports that the Michael Jackson Estate has earned more than a billion dollars since he died, in just under a year.
June 21 – Katherine Jackson and a man named Howard Mann disclose that they are about to release a book about Michael from Katherine’s perspective. Mann says he is also going into business with Katherine to sell 273 unreleased songs recorded by Michael that he obtained from a storage locker owned by the Jackson family, until they failed to pay the bill. The estate’s lead lawyer threatens to sue.
June 25 - To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Michael's passing, Joe Jackson filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Conrad Murray. Katherine's lawyer tells the media she doesn't want to be part of the lawsuit.
Whew! While it’s only been a year, the drama surrounding Michael Jackson’s estate is certain to continue for a long time. The sad fact is that if Michael would have simply transferred his assets into his Trust, much of this drama could have been avoided and would have been out of the public eye so the continuous airing of the family’s squabbles could have been avoided.
Take a lesson away from Michael’s estate for your own family. Finish what you start! It’s not enough to simply create a Trust and sign it at the attorney’s office; you need to complete the Trust process by transferring your assets into the Trust.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country. Follow us on Facebook and Google+.