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The Barnes Art Collection Controversy, Part I

The powerful story surrounding the legacy of Dr. Albert C. Barnes and his historic art collection was captured in a documentary released on DVD last week, called The Art of the Steal.Matisse

While this isn't the typical way we track down stories, it certainly was highly entertaining.  The Art of the Steal is a must-watch; it's not only moving and compelling, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

So who was Dr. Albert Barnes?  Raised in a Philadelphia working-class family, he found extraordinary wealth by inventing a new antiseptic medicine to treat and prevent venereal diseases at the start of the 20th Century.  He used his wealth to build what is widely considered to be the greatest collection of post-impressionist art ever assembled.  It includes hundreds of works by masters like Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh . . . and on and on.  The collection has been valued at 25 to 30 billion dollars, at least.

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The crazy claims of the Michael Jackson Estate

Given MJ's eccentricities in life, and the craziness that has surrounded his estate since he died, it is no surprise that Michael Jackson's estate executors are busy denying wild claims left and right.  Michael Jackson Trial and Heirs

TMZ has a list of the wackiest ones:

  • Jose Freddie Vallejos asked for $3.3 million to reimburse Los Angeles for the costs of the King of Pop's memorial service.
  • A homeschooler, Claire McMillan, is seeking $2 million.
  • Michael, according to Nona Paris Lola Ankhesenamun Jackson (try saying that three times fast), was actually married to her, so Nona of course wants custody of the three kids.
  • Richard Lapointe claimed he's owed $5 million for a memorabilia auction that was wrongly canceled.
  • And, best of all, a woman is convinced that Jackson wiretapped her telephone and had organized criminals watch her.  She wants a mere $50 million.

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Michael Jackson Estate's record deal raises questions

The Probate Lawyer Blog featured this article about the Michael Jackson Estate several weeks ago, posing the question of whether it is ethical for estate executors to seek a 10% fee for certain business deals they reach for such a high-profile estate.  It's especially problematic when you factor in that one of the executors was Michael Jackson's attorney.Michael Jackson Trial and Heirs

Well, this attorney, John Branca, and his co-executor, John McClain (a music executive), just hit the mother-load.  It was widely reported yesterday that they brokered a deal worth up to $250 million dollars (that's right -- one quarter of a billion dollars!).  What was the deal for?  Sony announced a seven-year distribution agreement for unreleased music recorded by the late King of Pop (as well as related video footage). 

Yes that means that Branca and McClain earned $12.5 million each for one deal.

Why do we question this?  For several reasons, actually.  First, it's the job of executors to bring in as much money as possible for an estate that has earning potential like this estate has.  They shouldn't need a 10% incentive to do the job they're required by law to do.

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Michael Jackson executors sorting through requests for money

It's been seven months since the King of Pop died suddenly at the age of 50, and fights surrounding his estate seem like they may last for many years to come.  Creditors are coming out of the woodwork, with new ones surfacing on a weekly basis.  The latest, a management company, joins a series of business, medical and spiritual advisers and others who insist they are owed money, totaling more than $20 million, already.  That total will certainly climb.Michael Jackson Trial and Heirs

The estate co-executors, John Branca and John McClain, have to sort through the requests for money and try to determine the legitimate ones from the ones that are, well, more fiction than fact.  It's common when someone wealthy and eccentric passes to have all sorts of people saying they are entitled to money.  (Jerry Garcia, James Brown, and Marlon Brando are a few notable examples that we cover in Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!). 

One of the more interesting requests is from Michael's father, Joe Jackson, who wants $15,000 per month in support.  He says that his famous son supported him financially while he was alive and that he doesn't really have any other source of income.  Executors Branca and McClain recently filed an opposition to the request.

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The Revlon chairman's ill-fated family fortune fight

CNN's Fortune Magazine recently had a fascinating article about Ron Perelman's efforts to drag his paralyzed, infirm, and elderly ex-father-in-law through one of the most vicious estate battles we've seen in a while.Ron Perelman

Perelman built most of his billion-dollar fortune through a hostile takeover of Revlon.  In the process, he married and divorced four women, one of whom was Claudia Cohen (actress Ellen Barkin was another).  Cohen came from a wealthy family herself.  Her father and brother own and control Hudson Media, a powerful magazine company that is a long-time partner of Time, Inc. 

Sadly, Claudia died after a difficult fight with cancer in 2007.  Her will appointed Perelman as her executor.  She named Samantha Perelman, her teenage daughter from their marriage, as her primary beneficiary.

Claudia's will made her wishes very clear, including her strong desire to protect the relationship between Samantha and Claudia's father, Robert, and brother, James.

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The Ultimate Trust Litigation case

Anyone who's ever been through a court battle over a trust or estate knows how important it is for everyone involved.  But some cases carry more importance than others.  The recently-resolved case of Cobell vs. Salazar has as much importance to our nation as any trust fight has ever had.Native American dancer

Elouise Cobell is the lead plaintiff in a class action suit against The United States Secretary of the Interior.  The lawsuit involves the rights of Native Americans under Individual Indian trusts that began under laws passed in 1887.  At that time, tribal lands of Native Americans were parceled out by the government and assigned to individuals, in lots between 40 and 160 acres in size. 

But the individual Native Americans weren't allowed to actually own the land.  The government did, leasing the lands for mineral and grazing rights, among other uses, and paying the proceedings into a series of informal trusts.  The United States Secretary of the Interior was charged with administering the trusts for the benefit of the individuals who were assigned to each parcel. 

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