The media is focusing on the contents of Michael Jackson’s Will, implying that his Will is his primary Estate Planning Document. In fact, Michael Jackson’s Will is largely irrelevant in determining how his assets will be distributed, to whom they will be distributed, and when they will be distributed. The reason is because Michael Jackson’s primary Estate Planning document is the Michael Jackson Family Trust, dated March 22, 2002. This Trust is a "Living Trust" which means that the details of Mr. Jackson’s specific plans with regard to the distribution of his Estate are private and will not become public record unless it is contested. Furthermore, because he created a Living Trust as his primary Estate Planning document, Mr. Jackson’s Estate will likely not be subject to Probate, saving his beneficiaries (whomever they may be) millions of dollars in attorney fees.
Mr. Jackson’s Will is what we in the Estate Planning community refer to as a "Pour Over Will." His Will does not say much more than the fact that if he accidentally forgot to title any of his assets to his Trust, he wants such assets to "pour over" into his Trust to ensure that the terms of the Trust (which are private and completely unknown at this point) will control his entire Estate.
The Will offers a few additional details of Mr. Jackson’s Estate Plan that would not be interesting if he were not such a high-profile individual with high-profile friends. First, the Will states his wish that the guardian of his minor children be his mother, Katherine Jackson, and if she is unable or unwilling to act as guardian, Mr. Jackson wishes that his celebrity friend, Diana Ross, will act as guardian. These wishes are not binding and must be approved by the Court, but courts often place high value on a parent’s nominations for guardian of their children. Second, the Will makes it clear that Mr. Jackson is intentionally omitting from his estate his former wife, Deborah Jean Rowe Jackson.
The media is pouncing over these few and minor details of Mr. Jackson’s overall Estate Plan, acting as if the entire Estate Plan has been revealed. Unfortunately, such misinformation is common in this era of 24-hour news cycles. The fact is we have no idea the identity of Mr. Jackson’s beneficiaries, how much each beneficiary will receive, when each beneficiary will receive his/her inheritance, or what specifically Mr. Jackson’s assets and debts are at this point.
One thing we do know is that Mr. Jackson – with the advice of his attorney – made at least one smart Estate Planning move: he created a private Living Trust as his primary Estate Planning document.
Read the Pour Over Will here: