How Does Michael Jackson’s Last Will Keep His Matters Private?

Before I being another story on Michael Jackson, let me say that I agree with you that there was entirely too much coverage surrounding his death. Good, solid citizens die every day without any notice. From servicemen fighting our wars in the Middle East to disease stricken parents leaving behind young families, those are the people who deserve our attention, praise and help where necessary.

Nevertheless, Michael Jackson’s Last Will and Testament provides us important lessons that I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you in today’s column.

Michael Jackson’s celebrity and unusual lifestyle promotes a sort of public curiosity. The news of his death came across as all of us witnessing the moment of impact of the proverbial train wreck.

This public curiosity breeds an insatiable television and print press appetite for information that will lead to selling newspapers, magazines and television air time. The press therefore fights to discover what Michael Jackson owned, who he is giving it to and how he is leaving it. The press wishes to reveal who will be responsible for managing his affairs for his children or other loved ones. They want to know whether he is leaving anything to charity, and if so how much and which ones.

You know what? The press won’t get those answers very easily, at least at first. Why, you may ask? That’s because Michael Jackson had a revocable living trust!

Whenever someone dies with only a will, then their will becomes public record. Anyone can read Michael Jackson’s will now that he has died.

So if Michael Jackson’s estate were primarily governed by a will, then the press would have access to much of his estate’s information once the will was filed along with an inventory of the estate. But here Michael Jackson’s estate is not primarily governed by a will, it is governed by a revocable living trust.

Because Michael Jackson had a revocable living trust, and presumably most of his assets were held by the revocable living trust, the Last Will and Testament doesn’t publish most of his wishes. If you were to pull up Michael Jackson’s will on the internet using the address that I cite above, you would find that any assets that would be subject to the will (mostly those would be assets in Michael Jackson’s name individually and not in his trust) are “poured” into his trust. Review Article III of his will to see what I mean.

The will simply directs the executor to funnel any assets that were in Mr. Jackson’s name individually to his trust. The provisions regarding the guardian of his children are

properly named in his will, so the press has already reported that he wants his mother, or if she is unavailable Diana Ross to raise his children.

In contrast to his Last Will, the terms of Michael Jackson’s revocable trust are private, and since the trust generally won’t file an inventory with the probate court, then the news agencies will not be able to easily gather the information and report the details of his estate plan.

It is possible, by the way for news agencies to discover the trust inventory and the trust provisions – that generally occurs when there is litigation over the trust itself, which appears likely in Michael Jackson’s case. In most situations, however, the trust provisions and inventory remains private. Most of the time, the only individuals who may learn of its contents are the trustees who are charged with the responsibility of carrying out the trust terms, the beneficiaries of the trust and any of the deceased’s creditors.

Regular readers of this column know that I am an advocate for privacy. If there is a means to avoid public disclosure of one’s personal financial and legal affairs, I believe one should act on those means. There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who use information to their advantage, preying upon the elderly, distraught families and other people at their most vulnerable time.

It doesn’t take celebrity or wealth the size of Michael Jackson’s to warrant the use of a revocable living trust. If you want to keep your legal and financial affairs private in the event of your disability or death, the frenzy around Michael Jackson’s estate should urge you to speak to your own estate planning attorney.

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