Updated Thursday, July 31, 2014 as of 7:34 AM ET
Blogs - Trial and Heirs
Top 5 Legal Challenges Facing Michael Jackson's Estate Executors
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Partner Insights

As the court battle between Michael Jackson’s heirs and entertainment company AEG heads to the jury, the case highlights five legal challenges and complications that the estate executors have had to worry about in the last few months alone.

Many people never stop to think of how hard it is to administer the estate or trust of someone who passes away. Often, it's a thankless job filled with headaches. That's certainly been the case for the Michael Jackson Estate executors: entertainment attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain. Well, at least the headache part. Here are the top five lessons to take away.

1. The AEG Wrongful Death Trial: It's a Thriller!

Now nearing the five-month mark since opening statements, the trial has been filled with twists and turns, from Lionel Richie's ex talking to the King of Pop's ghost to Jackson's childhood friendship with a mouse (as revealed by the Rolling Stone). While many in the media were quick to report how the judge recently dismissed two AEG executives from the case, a more telling ruling came down at the same time.

As reported by CNN: The judge also ruled that the Jacksons "presented substantial evidence" that AEG Live's "conduct was a substantial factor in causing" Jackson's death.

This means that it's completely up to the jury to decide if the Jackson heirs' $40 billion claim will win or not. If the jury views the evidence like the judge, and feels that there is "substantial evidence" that AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray and helped cause Michael Jackson's death, then his children and mother could win a huge payday.

As any trial lawyer can tell you, juries are unpredictable. Often, plaintiffs have an excellent chance at winning once they get their case to the jury. The fact they've made it this far could mean big trouble for AEG. It also means complications for the estate executors. While they have, for the most part, stayed out of the fighting, more than a few eyebrows were raised when an estate consultant testified in favor of AEG and against the Jackson heirs. He claimed he did so with approval from the executors. The executors later denied they gave him permission, but it highlights how all of this testimony and publicity can only make their job harder.

For example, the lavish estimates of Jackson's earning capacity may be used against the estate in its next big court battle against the IRS.

2.  The IRS Tells The Estate:  Who's Bad?

Much was made of Michael Jackson's debt when he passed away -- it was recently estimated to be as much as $500 million. While Branca and McClain have taken some heat (like from Randy Jackson, below), there is no disputing that they've done a masterful job at guiding the estate through troubled waters into a series of huge paydays.  Reportedly, they've brought in over $600 million during the first four years.

There's one problem that comes with that much success: the tax man. When the Michael Jackson Estate filed its estate tax return, it reportedly claimed his assets were worth only $7 million as of the day he died. The IRS has a slightly different view, estimating the total to be more than one billion dollars ... and as much as $1.5 billion, in fact. It says that the estate under-reported his assets so significantly that the estate owes a tax bill of $702 million. The estate disagrees and has sued to fight the IRS.

A large part of this dispute centers on the value of Jackson's image and likeness. The IRS claims it was worth $434 million, while the estate's tax filing placed a value of only $2,105.

Which of course, raises the question: If Michael Jackson's image and likeness, not to mention his other assets (the value of his music, for example), were worth as little as the estate's tax filing claimed, why has the estate earned so much money since he died? While the IRS appears to be overreaching with its figures -- especially placing such a high value on his image and likeness and apparently failing to include his extensive debt -- certainly, the post-death success shows that the estate was a tad too aggressive in its tax return filing after Michael Jackson died.

3. Alleged Egg Donor Goes To Court To Send Message To Jackson Kids: I Just Can't Stop Loving You.

The Michael Jackson Estate has other headaches to deal with. Like who exactly is the mother of Michael Jackson's three kids? Deborah Rowe is often referred to as the mother of Michael Jackson's oldest two children, Prince and Paris.

(1) Comment
Definitely, the various stakeholders have an axe to grind and scores to settle any which way you see it. It is really going to be a nightmare administering this estate. Maybe, this will be a textbook case of all that can go wrong.
Posted by tasha123 s | Tuesday, November 05 2013 at 12:13PM ET
Post a Comment
You must be registered to post a comment.
Not Registered?
You must be registered to post a comment. Click here to register.
Already registered? Log in here
Please note you must now log in with your email address and password.
2014 Summer Reading List for Advisors

Current Issue

The July Issue is now online!


Industry Events

August 10, 2014 |

September 9, 2014 |

September 17, 2014 |

September 20, 2014 |

September 28, 2014 |

Already a subscriber? Log in here