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Bucking the Odds: Michael Jackson’s Will Leaves Little Legal Uncertainty

Most stories about celebrity estate planning have one thing in common: they involve planning errors and drawn-out legal battles. But it is important not to overlook the other examples–where planning documents are straight-forward and opportunity for challenges are few and far between. At the end of the day, when knowledgeable experts are used to create effective plans there is little or no confusion about how to handle affairs. This is true for celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

Take, for example, legendary pop star Michael Jackson. Considering Jackson’s colorful life and well-
known family controversies, one might assume that the battle over his estate would be fraught with similar drama. Not quite. Surprisingly, most familiar with the case explain that there is very little wiggle room for involved parties to challenge his will.

A recent Forbes article summarizing the situation notes that the singer’s latest will (which is publicly available) is very similar to three previous versions of the will. All of them essentially say that all of the singer’s assets be placed in the “Michael Jackson Family Trust.” Those assets are then to be split: 20%
goes to charity and the rest divided into trusts for his mother and any children. Upon his mother’s death any remaining funds would go to the children. No other relatives are named in any version of the will dating back more than 17 years.

The will was admitted to probate shortly after the singer’s death. All witnesses verified the document’s validity shortly thereafter. California Probate Code requires a petition to challenge the probate of the will within 120 days–a timing requirement that has long-since passed in this case.

In other words, while news stories keep surfacing about potential new challenges to the will by Jackson’s father or other siblings left out of the will, it is highly unlikely that anything will change the final resolution. Jackson’s father did seek to overturn the will shortly after the death, but the judge in the case swiftly dismissed the challenge.

All of this is not to say that Jackson’s planning was without problems. There were some initial concerns about the funding of the trust and the conduct of the executors in making business deals immediately following Jackson’s death. Yet, most of those details were worked out shortly after the death.

The bottom line is that the consistent and clear wishes laid out in estate planning documents over a period of years has worked to minimize the potential complications in this case. Considering the size of the assets involved, it is somewhat surprising that so little controversy exists.

This is undoubtedly a lesson for all local residents on the benefit of proper planning. Disagreement and feuding are quite common in the aftermath of all deaths, not just for celebrities. Nipping the potential controversy in the bud by putting strong legal wishes in place is important for all community members.

To receive help getting a will or trust set-up in our area, take a moment to contact a San Diego estate planning attorney at the Law Office of Scott C. Soady.

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