Evidence is sparse that Michael Jackson’s will is a fake
by Kevin Noble Maillard | July 31, 2012 at 8:31 AM
Is Michael Jackson’s will valid? It depends on who you ask. Janet, Randy, Rebbie, and Jermaine Jackson argue that the executors of their late brother’s estate falsified the will. Their primary argument centers on the discrepancy between the date of the will’s execution and Jackson’s location at that time it was signed. The will was executed on July 7, 2002 in Los Angeles, the same weekend that Michael Jackson was reportedly in New York City. Randy Jackson observed in an interview on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton on MSNBC that Michael “cannot be in two places at one time.”
Even Al Sharpton attested to Michael’s location. “He was in fact in Harlem with me that weekend. That Saturday he was there,” Sharpton concurred on his show. “That Sunday we were out together, and that Monday, he was with Johnny Cochran and I.”
The siblings strongly argue that the conflict of Michael’s location and the stated place of execution proves that the will is false. They claim they are not interested in money, but rather in the proper administration of the estate. In his MSNBC interview, Randy Jackson said that the executors are “using the children to try and put pressure on my mom to try and come out and get her to say things in their favor to kind of clean up their image. They know that they’ve been caught. They know that they falsified a document. And they know that there are questions we want answered.”
Yet, executors John Branca and John McClain insist that their actions are in alignment with Michael’s testamentary intent and his children’s beneficiary interests. In other words, they are just doing their job to see that Michael Jackson’s will is carried out. They have a special duty to serve the interests of the people named in Michael Jackson’s will (which was accepted as valid by the courts): Katherine, Prince, Paris, and Blanket Jackson.
In many will contests, family members feel entitled to object to the distribution of the estate. Siblings, also known as collateral heirs, often object when disinherited. In reality, not even children are entitled to distribution, as the selection of beneficiaries is entirely left up to the testator. The only person entitled to a minimum share is a surviving spouse, which Jackson did not have. So, the Jackson siblings have no claim on Michael’s estate on the basis of kinship ties.
In addition, no part of Jackson’s will or family trust includes his brothers and sisters. His will makes no mention of his siblings, and neither does his trust—two different documents, both signed on different dates. Michael’s will is actually very short, and only names his executors, beneficiaries, and intention to create a trust. The will directs his executors to “pour” all of his property into the trust, which is a separate written document that goes into much greater detail about distribution. Like the will, the trust—which is uncontested—leaves nothing to his siblings.
The Jackson siblings may have standing to object to the will as blood relatives, yet their brother had no intention of an estate plan that included them. Because there are two documents that fail to mention the siblings, the validity scale tips in favor of Michael Jackson’s executors, because all of Jackson’s actions show that he wanted to provide only for his mother and children.
The siblings are placing a lot of weight on the will’s signature to prove or disprove validity, which is unlikely to be the sole factor of consideration. In order to assess the validity of a will, courts look to extrinsic evidence. This allows a court to resolve any ambiguities, like a flawed description, an incorrect address, or a questionable signature. There would have to be much more extrinsic evidence demonstrating that the current will did not represent the interests of the testator than just the location question.
The trust instrument, dated March 2002, coincides with the intent of the will, dated July 2002. Seven years passed between the execution of the will and Jackson’s death. The named beneficiaries—Michael’s Jackson’s children—are the unsurprising recipients of the testator’s bounty in both the will and the trust documents. Right now, the extrinsic evidence in the form of the trust puts more weight in favor of the will being authentic.
The siblings may argue that the executors replaced Michael’s interests with their own in a falsified version of the will, but they lack sufficient evidence to prove that Michael wanted anything other than to leave everything to his kids with his mother to guide them. His brother’s intent is clear, even if the nature of the signature is ambiguous.
Kevin Noble Maillard is a professor of law at Syracuse University. Follow him on Twitter at @noblemaillard.