Along with the mystery of his cause of death, the status of Michael Jackson's last will and testament is one of the most vexing questions about the pop singer's legacy. For an artist whose complicated, notoriously messy finances were more newsworthy than his musical endeavors over the past decade, it is still unclear if Jackson left definitive instructions on what was to become of his assets following his death.
Some of those questions might be answered as early as Thursday (July 2), when, according to the Wall Street Journal, a lawyer for the singer could submit what is believed to be his last will, drafted in 2002. At least two other wills have emerged since Jackson's death on Thursday at the age of 50, and in a court filing on Monday, the singer's parents, Joseph and Katherine, said that they believed he died without a valid will. The Journal reported that Joseph — who Michael said in interviews had physically and emotionally abused him as a child — was not included in the 2002 will, which divided his estate among his mother, his three children and a number of charities.
A lawyer for Jackson's parents, L. Londell McMillan, wrote in an e-mail to the paper that neither he nor his clients have seen the 2002 will. "No will has been presented to family or us," said McMillan, who once represented Michael Jackson as well. "We will review any will when we see it."
McMillan was instrumental in helping Katherine Jackson get temporary custody of the singer's children on Monday, but it is unclear if the 2002 will makes any clear custody provisions for their care. On Monday, CNN reported that Joseph and Katherine had filed petitions to administrate Jackson's estate. Longtime lawyer John Branca reportedly told TMZ that he'd worked with Jackson recently and that the singer signed a will that he intends to file within 30 days.
According to the Journal, the 2002 will names veteran music-biz attorney Branca (who represented Jackson between 1980 and 2006) as co-executor of the estate, along with music executive John McClain. Branca wrote the will and he was rehired by Jackson to represent him just one week before the singer's death.
Jackson reportedly died with nearly $500 million in debt, but the Journal said his many assets — including a 50 percent share of the valuable Sony/ ATV Music Publishing catalog, with tunes from the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jonas Brothers and Lady Gaga — could possibly outweigh that debt by as much as $200 million, the Journal report said.
In addition to his share of the Sony catalog, which Jackson put up as collateral for a $300 million loan, among the other valuable assets left behind are the Mijac publishing catalog, which includes the rights to Jackson's own musical compositions. That catalog was put up as collateral for a separate $73 million loan. Among the possible major revenue generators from the estate are any unreleased recordings by Jackson, including the songs he was working on for his long-in-the-works next album and a reported 100 or more tracks he'd recorded but never released.
While Judge Mitchell Beckloff granted Katherine Jackson temporary guardianship of Jackson's children on Monday, as well as control over some of her son's personal property, he did not immediately rule no her request to take control of the children's and Jackson's estates, according to The Associated Press.
As the various fights over the assets unfold, one thing the grieving family is not yet ready for is a funeral. Joseph Jackson said on Monday that they are awaiting the outcome of a second, family-requested autopsy before making funeral plans.
For complete coverage of the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit "Michael Jackson Remembered."
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