Battle to control Jackson's fortune begins
His mother took the first step Monday when she petitioned the Superior Court of California to be named the administrator of the late singer's estate. Katherine Jackson said in the filing she was acting to ensure Michael Jackson's three children are the beneficiaries.
It's the opening salvo in a complicated battle for a fortune that includes a lucrative music catalog of the King of Pop's own hits, the rights to songs by the Beatles, and the Neverland ranch that could one day be a tourist attraction.
There's even an elaborate video production, dubbed the "Dome Project," that was overseen by Jackson and finished two weeks before he died.
The high stakes and array of people involved will likely make the fight far more convoluted than recent high-profile squabbles over the estates of singer James Brown and ex-Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith.
"There's no doubt that there's going to be a big battle," said Alexis Martin Neely, a Los Angeles-based estate attorney. "It's going to be very messy and I don't see anything comparing to this."
Complicating matters is that few, if any, people know all the details of the reclusive entertainer's financial affairs. His mother's filing, for example, declares that Jackson died "intestate," or without a will. But that is in dispute. Another person with knowledge of Jackson's business matters told The Associated Press last Friday that there is a will, which would take precedent in court. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the material.
Becoming an estate administrator "puts a vast amount of power in one person's hands," said Roy Kozupsky, a lawyer with Smith, Gambrell & Russell. The person would have the power to sell assets, make deals and determine how to pay off creditors, he said.
At stake is Jackson's 50 percent ownership in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a company itself estimated to be worth $2 billion; Jackson's own recordings and songwriting rights, which could be worth more than $150 million; and his joint ownership of the Neverland ranch.
Katherine Jackson said in her filing she intends to use the estate's assets for "the exclusive use of the decedent's (Jackson's) three children." But the filing could also be the first move in contesting the validity of a will, if there is one, Kozupsky said.
Jackson, who died Thursday at age 50, left behind three children: son Michael Joseph Jr., known as Prince Michael, 12; daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11; and son Prince Michael II, 7. The youngest was born to a surrogate mother, while the first two were born to ex-wife Deborah Rowe.