Please, not another blog about Michael Jackson!

by | Jul 9, 2009 | Estate Planning

There are 2 kinds of people in the world. Some can’t get enough of the Michael Jackson saga. Others are complaining about how all the real news in the world is being drowned out by old Michael videos and talking heads analyzing his dysfunctional family. If you’re in the 2nd group, my apologies. But below is more great information about Michael and his estate planning.

Also, if you want another interesting take on Michael’s estate plan, check out the blog post of my colleague Victor Medina – “Michael Jackson’s Estate Plan – What He Did Right!”


1. Don’t you want to avoid confusion? With Michael, there was a time period where it wasn’t clear whether he had a Will or not. In fact, his mom went to court and told the judge there was not a Will and asked that she be given power as the administrator. Now things change once the Will is presented to the court. Good planning will avoid this limbo period where people are wondering if there is a Will and where it is. Good planning will make sure that the right people know how to quickly get their hands on legal documents that you have prepared.

2. Who is a good choice as guardian of your kids? Michael’s mom is 79 years old. His youngest child is 7. If I have my math right, she will be 90 years old when he gets out of high school. Is she the best option as guardian? Under Illinois law, do you know who is qualified to raise your kids? Anyone over 18 who is not a felon but is U.S. citizen. So from that pool of people, the judge has to pick someone who is in the best interest of the child. In Illinois, the court will lean strongly toward following the parent’s wishes in naming a guardian, but is not absolutely required to name the guardian you list in your Will. If you properly name a guardian in writing, then your choice has “prima facie” validity. This means that the court presumes that your guardian choice is best, but the court may approve someone else if evidence shows that is better.

3. What about the other parent? The mother of 2 of Michael’s kids, Debbie Rowe, is to have nothing to do with them, according to his family at a press conference. She was not named as a guardian. I am assuming that she gave up all her parental rights because (in Illinois) the other surviving parent will continue to be the child’s guardian, regardless of what the Will said, unless their parental rights had already been terminated.

4. No planning = 18 year old with money. I assume that Michael’s trust provides for his children and gives instructions about how their money will be managed and when and how they can spend it or take control over it. But, if he had no plan or they couldn’t find the documents, then the law (at least in Illinois), is that kids get their money at age 18. Would your 18 year old high school senior be ready to receive your wealth (home, retirement plan, life insurance, etc.)?

5. Don’t be distracted by the big numbers. Don’t get caught in the trap that only rich people like Michael need to do estate planning. We should just call it “planning” and get rid of the term estate. Every person, regardless of their wealth or family situation, should do some kind of planning for when they are disabled or pass away. Good planning to make things easier, better, cheaper, smoother, quicker – for you now and your family later. Even doing nothing is a plan in itself.

6. End up like Elvis? Part 1. Michael was afraid he would end up dying young like Elvis. Hopefully Michael’s estate won’t end up like Elvis. When Elvis died, his estate was worth about $10 million, but by the time expenses, taxes, lawyers, and probate fees were all paid, there was less than $3 million left.

7. End up like Elvis? Part 2. Despite Elvis’ lack of planning for his death, his family has done very well with the family business. A few years ago, the family sold most of their Elvis rights for $100 million. From being worth $3 million to over $100 million in 30 years. Not bad. I say do both – set up good planning that handles your estate properly now, but also sets up your family for greater success later. Elvis’s family overcame bad initial planning to successfully grow the family wealth. Don’t make your family have to overcome that obstacle.