Katherine Jackson became mother to her son, Michael Jackson’s children, when he died in 2009 at age 50. Paris, Prince Michael and “Blanket” have seemed to thrive under her watchful eye. (Here, Katherine is pictured with Royal Jackson, Blanket Jackson, Prince Jackson and Paris Jackson appear at the Michael Jackson Hand and Footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on January 26, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Michael Jackson’s kids Prince Jackson, Blanket Jackson and Paris Jackson, Latoya Jackson and Katherine Jackson attend Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Receives Michael Jackson Artwork Donation ceremony on August 8, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
Kelly Griffin, LaToya Jackson, Stephen Hill, Katherine Jackson and Rebbie Jackson pose at the 2012 BET Music Matters Showcase held at the Creative Artists Agency on July 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images For BET)
Singer Janet Jackson arrives at the 2012 amfAR’s Cinema Against AIDS during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Hotel Du Cap on May 24, 2012 in Cap D’Antibes, France. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Show musical designer Kevin Antunes, Katherine Jackson, Tito Jackson and Jackie Jackson appear at Michael Jackson Fan Fest prior to the Las Vegas premiere of Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour by Cirque du Soleil at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino December 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil)
Joe Jackson and Katherine Jackson arrive at court for the Dr Conrad Murray trial verdict on November 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Murray was convicted in the 2009 death of pop singer Michael Jackson from an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol. Sentencing will take place November 29. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)
Jermaine Jackson, Rebbie Jackson and Katherine Jackson leave court after the sentencing of Dr. Conrad Murray at the Los Angeles Superior Court on November 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Judge Michael E. Pastor sentenced Murray to four years in the Los Angeles County Jail for the involuntary manslaughter of Jackson. A restitution hearing has been scheduled for January 23, 2012 to determine the amount of restitution to be paid to the Jackson family. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)
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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.
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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.
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