Family to Make Play for Michael Jackson's Fortune

Katherine Jackson to seek greater control over Michael Jackson's estate.

Aug. 3, 2009 — -- Katherine Jackson will appear in a Los Angeles courtroom today in the hopes of becoming a co-executor of Michael Jackson's multimillion-dollar estate, an attempt to wrest control of her son's fortune from the two men he handpicked to oversee his legacy.

Rather than contest the will outright -- a risky maneuver that if unsuccessful would cost Katherine, 79, the money she already is assured -- the family is instead trying to raise questions about the legitimacy of the executors Jackson named in his will.

Aside from Jackson's children, Katherine Jackson was the only member of the family named in Jackson's will.

As a co-executor she, and by extension her husband Joe Jackson, would have a hand in how Michael Jackson's money and estate will be handled in the future -- a role Jackson did not want his family members to have. If named a co-executor of the estate, Katherine Jackson would also be entitled to a sizeable executor's fee.

Katherine Jackson's lawyers last week signaled a potential battle for control of the estate, raising questions in the media about the authenticity of the will and filing documents in court to squeeze information from the two men Jackson named executors in his 2002 will -- longtime manager John Branca and lawyer John McClain.

"The question," Katherine's lawyer Londell McMillan said July 31 on CBS's "The Early Show," "is what happened to this will in 2002? How come no one knew about it? How come Mrs. Jackson didn't know about it? How come I didn't know about it? How come we learned about it the day we filed a petition in court stating he died without a will?"

Jackson's Wealth Draws Controversy Over Executors

In a statement released to the media on July 29, McMillan tried to portray the executors as a shady pair, trying to keep the family in the dark. He called the will "unnotarized" and the trust "undisclosed" and said he wanted to "gain more facts concerning a suspicious circle of relationships."

McMillan also has suggested that the executors have not been completely upfront with the Jackson family. He recently served subpoenas and deposition notices to Branca and McClain, seeking to make them disclose information regarding their knowledge of a deal Michael Jackson made with concert promoter AEG to perform 50 shows in London this year.

McMillan has accused the executors of denying Katherine Jackson access to "critical" documents like the contract the singer signed with AEG, which he called "of great potential significance to the estate."

Sources said McMillan and Joe Jackson want to see the AEG contract because they believe it will reveal something that will open the door to a civil case, namely that Michael Jackson signed on to fewer than 50 shows.

Those same sources said that the executors have shared the contract with the Jacksons and there is nothing to hide.

At the time of his death, Michael Jackson was over $300 million in debt, but according to The Associated Press has a net worth around $236 million.

According to the AP's accounting, Jackson had $567.6 million in assets, including his share of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalogue, which includes the rights to songs by the Beatles.

But McMillan said the singer was worth far more than that.

"That estate," he told CBS, "is worth, in my estimation, a couple of billion dollars. You hear $500 million. Don't buy it."

The potential battle mounting for control of the estate pales in drama to the fight many observers expected to take place in court today -- a clash for custody of the three Jackson children.

After weeks of negotiations, Katherine Jackson and Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe reached an out-of-court agreement that gives the singer's mother full, permanent custody of the pop icon's three children, while Rowe will be granted "meaningful visitation rights."

Spiritual Battle Over Jackson's Kids' Religion

Katherine Jackson will maintain sole custody of Prince Michael I, 12, Paris-Michael Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7, also known as Blanket, while Rowe, mother of the two oldest kids, will have meaningful visitation rights and retain her legal parental rights.

In his will, Jackson granted custody of the children to his mother, but in the days after his death Rowe suggested she might seek custody of the children.

As the custody battle settles, a spiritual one could replace it. Sources close to Debbie Rowe told ABC News that she is concerned the children may not be raised Catholic, as the sources said Michael Jackson wanted, "Good Morning America" reported today.

Though Michael Jackson's children were reportedly baptized in a Catholic church in 2003, Katherine Jackson, a devout Jehovah's Witness, has been taking the kids to her church since their father's death.

An investigation into Jackson's June 25 death is ongoing.