Michael Jackson Family Feud: Lessons for Wills and Trusts

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Does all this mean Michael erred in his will by appointing her his children's guardian? Not necessarily, thinks Donald David. He agrees the choice of someone so old was "a bit unusual." But, he adds, "It's premature for us to say there is a problem. Right now nobody knows what happened in Arizona."

He calls the late singer, whom he met once in a deposition, "one of the smartest businessmen I've ever dealt with" and someone more than capable of making sound choices. Of Michael's choice of Katherine, he says, "Perhaps he felt she was the best person. Perhaps he felt others might not be as protective or might be more interested in what they could get for themselves."

Lesson three: Jackson's trust.

If you're setting up a trust, as Michael Jackson did to provide for his mother (among others), is it better to give your trustees detailed instructions how you want them to execute your wishes, or is it better to speak in generalities? Jackson's trust, according to David and the Mayoras, says only that the monies are to be spent on Katherine's care and well-being, without providing more specifics.

David thinks that's fine. "It's good to be general," he says. In his view, it's a mistake to craft instructions for your trustees that are "so long and convoluted that they try to be a road map." Does "care and well-being" mean she has to have a car and chauffeur? Does it mean she must live in nothing smaller than a 1-bedroom apartment? That's best left up, he says, to the interpretation of the trustees you've picked -- who, in this case, are Branca and McClain. Further, to create "an artificially restrictive structure" is to invite litigation.

The Mayoras, in Jackson's case, disagree. Jackson's trust document, only 22 pages long, does not comport, they say, with the size or complexity of the singer's estate. "The entire document," they write, "is far from the quality one would expect from any experienced estate planning attorney." By comparison, they point to the far more substantial and detailed document they say was created for the actress Farrah Fawcett, who died the same day as Jackson.

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