As I said in my earlier blog, Michael Jackson's 2002 will was a relatively standard will. Perhaps the most controversial issue is Jackson's decision regarding who he chose to administer his estate. While Jackson clearly appointed his mother, Katherine Jackson to be the guardian for his children, he chose to appoint John Branca, John McClain and Barry Siegel to be the executors of his estate. Mr. Branca was Jackson's attorney and Mr. McClain, is a music executive. Mr. Siegel, an accountant appears to have renounced as an executor.
Jackson's family has applied to have the formal hearing on the executorship delayed. There certainly appears to be, at a minimum, surprise, disappointment and suspicion on the family's behalf that the will does not appoint family members to administer the estate. An AP Report said that Katherine Jackson also wants the delay to see if any newer wills emerge. "She wants to know what happened to her son before appointing individuals to take over his estate worth over a billion dollars," the person said.
What factors would Michael have considered when he made his will?
For many, the choice of executor is one of the most difficult. Estate lawyers often point out that what is most important is that the person(s) chosen are trust-worthy. However, other factors are also relevant.
Obviously, Michael was aware of the complexity of his assets. Issues relating to royalties and other music related property were no doubt expected to arise. In that case, appointing someone with specialized expertise regarding specific assets is recommended. Was it necessary to appoint a lawyer? Generally, there is no over-riding reason to appoint a lawyer as an executor. The legal aspects of estate administration can be dealt with simply by having the executor retain an estates lawyer to provide legal advice as needed.
Perhaps Michael did not want to burden his family with the administration of what will be a very complicated administration. In those circumstances, some lawyers recommend that the will-maker appoint the family member, but leave a letter with the will addressed to the family. The will-maker can indicate that he recognizes that the job of administering the estate will be difficult and relieving the family of the obligations if they chose to renounce. Persons appointed as executors often feel morally bound to act even if it will be difficult for them personally. By leaving a letter, any guilt associated with renouncing as an executor may be relieved. On the other hand, it still gives the family the option of having control over the estate if they wish to.
Will challenges, in many cases, are not about money. They are sometimes about ensuring that one's place in the deceased's life is properly recognized.
The disappointment felt by the Jackson family, is likely a result of the fact that Michael did not advise them of his choice of executors prior to his death. Surprise is never a good thing in estate matters. When family finds out after death that they are excluded from the will -- whether as an executor, beneficiary or guardian -- bad feelings and suspicion can easily result. Reading it in a legal document, without hearing it from that loved one personally makes it much more difficult to accept. We will have to wait and see if the surprise, disappointment and suspicion leads to litigation.