The ABCs of Michael Jackson´s Will

The ABCs of Michael Jackson´s Will

By Alan G. Orlowsky, J.D., C.P.A.

For the past several months we all have been witness to the drama surrounding the death of Michael Jackson. His personal life, played out on the public stage, was by any reasonable standards as bizarre as it was tragic. However, notwithstanding his failings of character and eccentricities, he died a very wealthy man, was revered by many, and possessed the common sense to reduce his testamentary wishes to paper. Unlike many “relatively normal well adjusted” entertainers, Michael “got it” and understood that he needed to prepare a Will to protect his family.

So, what did Michael´s Will state? What did he declare therein to protect his family and perpetuate his legacy that we can learn from? And how did he overcome the psychological hurdle of confronting his own death when most other mortals could not?

The ABCs of the Will of Michael Joseph Jackson

What was declared therein and the filing thereof are as follows:

  • A. Michael´s Will was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles on July 1, 2009, shortly after his death on June 25, 2009. Upon filing it was made public to the whole world!
  • B. Publication of the Will was immediately requested so that the statute of limitations for contesting such wills would immediately begin to run, thus barring claims against the estate as quickly as possible.
  • C. Surety Bond was waived by the Will and, hence, not required, perhaps saving the estate from tens of thousands of dollars of unnecessary bond premiums.
  • D. Michael appointed 3 individuals as co-executors, namely, John Branca, John McClain, and Barry Siegel. Only McClain now acts as executor.
  • E. Michael was a US citizen and a resident of California at the time of his death, although he spent most of his time out of the country.
  • F. Paul Gordon Hoffman, Attorney filed the Will.
  • G. Character estimated value of the property of the Estate were reported as follows: “The petitioners are not certain of the value of the Estate. Petitioners believe that the value of the estate exceeds $500 million. Petitioners believe that almost all of the Estate consists of non-cash, non-liquid assets, including primarily an interest in a catalog of music royalty rights which is currently being administered by Sony ATV, and interests in various entities. Petitioners do not have any information at this time regarding the liquid assets of the Estate.”
  • H. Michael was divorced and had no registered domestic partner.
  • I. Michael declared 3 children, natural-born or adopted, namely, Prince Michael Jackson, Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, and Prince Michael Joseph Jackson, II.
  • J. The entire estate was given to the Trustee of the Amended and Restated Declaration of Trust executed on March 22, 2002, and named the “Michael Jackson Family Trust.”
  • K. Michael specifically excluded his former wife, Deborah Jean Rowe Jackson, from taking under the estate.
  • L. Katherine Jackson, Michael´s mother, was named guardian of his children and Diana Ross successor guardian.

Was Michael´s Will well-drafted?

In my opinion… yes!

It has served him well by providing for the transfer of his assets to his Family Trust, by providing that his trusted mother be appointed guardian of his children, and, so far, by withstanding attack from outsiders. Also, since Trusts are not subject to public scrutiny, Michael was able to keep the disposition of his estate free from the public eye. One omission I am able to infer from the filing of the Will is the failure by Michael´s attorney to have re-titled his considerable assets in the name of his Family Trust prior to death…a common mistake which not only subjects estate assets to potentially costly probate proceedings but also to otherwise avoidable public view.

What we learn from Michael´s Will is that good planning can prevent a clash of family members and outsiders who may otherwise have pitted themselves against each other in order to lay claim to Michael´s considerable estate and to the custody of his beloved children. Clearly, millions of dollars were saved and lengthy litigation avoided because Michael planned.

Why did Michael plan while many others fail to do so? Maybe Michael understood the fragility of life and was not in denial about his risky behavior. Perhaps Michael had a death wish or just wanted to protect his children. Perhaps he had a proactive attorney who made it crystal clear that catastrophe would ensue if he suddenly died having failed to plan. We will never know for sure his reasons for planning, but you can take a cue from his forward-thinking and establish a plan to protect your family as well as he protected his.

About the Author

Alan G. Orlowsky, President of Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. in Lincolnshire, Illinois, has been counseling people on estate planning for over 30 years. He previously worked for the IRS in its Estate and Gift Tax Division. He also worked for the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm, and he has taught taxation and accounting at Loyola University of Chicago, School of Business.

Al is a contributing author of the book 21st Century Wealth (Esperti Peterson Institute, Denver, 2000), and has written numerous articles on the subject of estate planning. Contact Alan Orlowsky by email or call 847-325-5559.


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