An entertainment lawyer and music executive were named executors of Michael Jackson’s estate today, despite a judge’s earlier ruling appointing the singer’s mother as the administrator of her son’s vast assets–and hefty debts.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff said he initially appointed 79-year-old Katherine Jackson as special administrator of the singer’s estate because he believed Michael Jackson had died without leaving a will.
But a will the singer signed in 2002, surfaced last week, and it named entertainment attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain executors of Michael Jackson’s estate. Beckloff said he had little choice but to name them executors, although he instructed them to ensure that Katherine Jackson is given some input into decisions affecting the estate.
Another hearing has been set for Aug. 3.
Attorneys for Katherine Jackson initially asked for a delay in today’s probate hearing, noting that she was still grieving and preparing for a funeral service and memorial tribute planned for Tuesday. They also argued that Michael Jackson had cut all ties with Branca after the 2002 will was signed, and naming him an executor of the estate would amount to a conflict of interest.
“Her (Katherine Jackson’s) concern is handing over the keys to the kingdom this quickly,” said John Schreiber, an attorney for Katherine Jackson.
Beckloff noted, however, that Jackson had apparently re-established ties with Branca in June, about a week before his June 25 death.
The 2002 will transfers his property into the Michael Jackson Family Trust. People familiar with the trust told the Web site TMZ.com and the Los Angeles Times that under its terms, 40 percent of Jackson’s assets go to his children, another 40 percent to his mother and the remaining 20 percent to charities working with children.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys noted that they were not challenging the validity of the will–particularly since the singer’s mother and children are the primary beneficiaries–only the appointment of Branca as an executor of the estate.
They requested that Katherine Jackson be given approval authority over decisions about the estate made by the Branca and McClain. Beckloff said the pair should consult with Jackson and allow her to have input, but her approval would not be required.
“I did not name her co-administrator,” Beckloff said.
He noted, however, that any decisions regarding the estate’s assets must be approved by the court.
After the hearing, Katherine Jackson attorney Burt Levitch said that while his client was removed as administrator of the estate, he was happy that she would still have a role in the decision-making process.
“We are relatively pleased with the decision, because the judge has taken the unusual step of requiring that Mrs. Jackson be kept informed of the administration of this estate in its preliminary phase,” Levitch said.
Howard Weitzman, attorney for Branca, said Beckloff made the right decision by adhering to Michael Jackson’s will.
“It was clear from Michael’s will that he wanted Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain to be the executors,” Weitzman said. “It’s our obligation, our duty, our responsibility and our desire to do everything we can to carry out Michael Jackson’s wishes, maximizing the assets of his estate and allowing his fans to continue to enjoy the great legacy that he brought to all of us.”
Meanwhile, a will that was apparently signed by Jackson in 1997 was filed with the court, according to Levitch and Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini. The details of the document were not immediately available, but the document would only carry legal significance if the 2002 will is invalidated or thrown out, officials said.
Jackson’s most valuable asset is his 50 percent share in the Sony-ATV Music Publishing catalog, which people with knowledge of the partnership value at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, The Times reported. The partnership itself has about $600 million in debt, one person told The Times.
According to The Times, even without factoring in his posthumous earning power, the value of Michael Jackson’s assets at the time of his death outstripped his debts by at least $200 million.
The entertainer died owing more than $400 million to various financial institutions, the paper reported.
Jackson, 50, was found not breathing at his rented Holmby Hills mansion on June 25. He died about two hours later at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Beckloff last week also named Katherine Jackson temporary guardian of her son’s three children–Prince Michael Jr., 12; Paris Michael Katherine, 11; and Prince Michael II, 7. Another hearing on that issue is scheduled for next Monday.
It was unclear whether Jackson’s ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, the mother of the two older children, might fight for custody of them. Rowe told NBC4 last week that she planned to seek custody, but her attorney later backed away from that claim, saying a decision had not yet been made.
Jackson’s will asked that his mother be given custody of the children, and in the event of her death, that they be given to singer Diana Ross.