Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Michael Jackson ("MJ") and have spent a lot of time the last few days watching and reading media reports. I was impressed by the tributes from world leaders, other celebrities and his legions of fans worldwide. Also, it has been fun to hear his music playing everywhere and to watch endless clips from his music videos, concert performances and interviews. Even though MJ and his contributions to music will go down in history, his death leaves the same issue to be dealt with by his survivors as the one our survivors will deal with when we die: what will happen to all of MJ's worldly possessions?
If MJ is determined to be a resident of the State of California, his estate will go through the same process that yours or mine will go through. Once his assets are identified, the most important determination to be made is how the assets are held. This requires examination of the name or title on those assets. Following is a brief explanation of what happens to his assets depending on the way they are held.
If an asset is jointly owned with another person or persons, the property will automatically go to the joint owner(s). If an asset is in an account with a beneficiary designation, the asset will automatically go to the designated beneficiary. If MJ has a living trust and assets are titled "MJ, as Trustee of the MJ Trust", his designated Successor Trustee will in effect "step into MJ's shoes" to manage and distribute the asset according to the terms of his living trust.
If any assets are simply held in the name "MJ", those assets become part of his probate estate and subject to the jurisdiction of the Superior Court of the county in which he resided. The assets have to go through a legal process called probate in order for claims against his property to be settled and to have the assets distributed to his heirs. If he had a will, the property will be distributed according to the terms of the will. If he had no will, the laws of intestate succession apply. Since he was not married, his three children would share equally in his estate.
If MJ has a living trust, the public might only get rumors of what happens to his assets since trusts are private documents. On the other hand, ifMJ's estate has to go through probate, all of the court proceedings will be a matter of public record and we will be able to know exactly what happened to his assets.
Yes, death is the great equalizer when it comes to the handling of one's estate. Whether you are rich and famous or an ordinary Joe, the same rules apply. © 2009 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.