LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson’s 7-year-old will was filed Wednesday in a Los Angeles court, giving his entire estate to a family trust while making his mother the guardian of his children and cutting out his former wife Debbie Rowe.
Court documents estimated the current value of his estate at more than $500 million.
It names his mother, Katherine Jackson, 79, as a beneficiary of the trust and the guardian of Jackson’s children, who are also named as beneficiaries of the trust.
It also names entertainer Diana Ross as a successor guardian for the children and their estates if something happens to Katherine Jackson.
Ross introduced the Jackson 5 on the Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960s and was instrumental in launching their career. She was a lifelong friend of Michael Jackson.
Jackson’s longtime lawyer John Branca and John McClain, a music executive and a family friend, are named in the will as co-executors.
In a statement, Branca and McClain said: “The most important element of Michael’s will is his unwavering desire that his mother, Katherine, become the legal guardian for his three children. As we work to carry out Michael’s instructions to safeguard both the future of his children as well as the remarkable legacy he left us as an artist we ask that all matters involving his estate be handled with the dignity and the respect that Michael and his family deserve.”
The executors moved quickly to take control of all of Michael Jackson’s property, going to court Wednesday to challenge a previous ruling by the judge that gave Katherine Jackson control of 2,000 items from Neverland.
Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff said Katherine Jackson will retain authority over the items until another hearing set for Monday.
Beckloff urged attorneys from both sides to try to reach a compromise soon.
“I would like the family to sit down try to make this work that we don’t have a difficult time in court,” the judge said.
An effort to bury Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch fizzled, and it appears more likely a funeral and burial will take place in Los Angeles, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The family has the final say.
Authorities in Santa Barbara County had been preparing for tens of thousands of fans to descend on the ranch after media reports said a public viewing would take place later this week.
But the person, who is not authorized to speak for the family and requested anonymity, said nothing was planned for Neverland, at least through Friday.
A private memorial service for family and friends could take place at the ranch, most likely after the funeral.
“The family is aware a Neverland burial is not possible. They are expected to make decisions about whatever funeral and memorial service” will take place, the person said.
Heavy construction equipment and workers were seen passing through the wrought-iron gates of Neverland on Tuesday. The property is about 170 kilometres northwest of Los Angeles.
At once a symbol of Jackson’s success and excesses, Neverland – nestled in the hills of Santa Barbara County’s wine country – became the site of a makeshift memorial after his death Thursday.
The will, dated July 7, 2002, gives the entire estate to the Michael Jackson Family Trust. Details of the trust will not be made public.
California’s attorney general, who oversees charitable donations from estates, is also named as a person who must be notified. It suggests some of the trust’s proceeds could go to charity, although which ones might benefit was not clear.
The documents said Jackson’s estate consisted almost entirely of “non-cash, non-liquid assets, including primarily an interest in a catalog of music royalty rights which is currently being administered by Sony ATV, and the interests of various entities.”
One of Jackson’s most lucrative assets is his stake in the massive Sony-ATV Music Publishing Catalog, which includes music by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers, and is estimated to be worth as much as $2 billion. The five-page will is signed by Jackson, and each paragraph includes Jackson’s scrawling initials.
Jackson, who died June 25 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. Rowe was the mother of the two oldest children; the youngest was born to a surrogate mother, who has never been identified.
Katherine Jackson was granted temporary guardianship Monday of Jackson’s three children. A judge held off on requests to control the children’s estates.
Rowe, who was married to Jackson in 1996 and filed for divorce three years later, surrendered her parental rights. An appeals court later found that was done in error, and Rowe and Jackson entered an out-of-court settlement in 2006.
Neither Rowe nor her attorneys have indicated whether she intends to seek custody of the two oldest children.
Funeral plans have not yet been announced.
Members of Jackson’s family met Tuesday with officials from the Los Angeles police and California Highway Patrol about funeral services. But “details are still pending,” according to Fran Clader, a spokeswoman for the patrol. The patrol would need to be consulted if the body was moved from Los Angeles to Neverland.
It was unclear whether Jackson could be legally buried at the ranch. The state’s health and safety code makes interring any uncremated remains outside of a cemetery a misdemeanor. Cremated remains can be kept in a home or private mausoleum outside a cemetery.
It was not possible to rule out that Jackson’s body might return to the ranch, either for the private service or a burial sometime in the future, if the family can get the go-ahead from state and local officials.
AP writers Michael R. Blood, Noaki Schwartz and Ryan Nakashima in Los Angeles contributed to this story.