Fight or Flight?


Michael Jackson’s sudden death and the skirmishes over who should be his executors, or remain so, should give you pause. You would not want your beneficiaries fighting over your estate and you should want executors with the necessary expertise to manage your assets after you are gone.

Not too much can be done to prevent the former. Jackson’s Will has a “no contest” clause, such that if a beneficiary takes issue with how much he or she is to get, they get nothing. Still, this has not prevented Jackson’s mother from seeking to have herself appointed as an executor or to try to obtain a say on decisions affecting estate assets. Or, from his two named executors from pushing back. While it is questionable whether a broad “no contest” clause would be enforceable in Canada, particularly where it ousts the jurisdiction of the courts, people still have them put in wills.

Jackson took care to appoint two professional persons with the skills-sets and abilities to look after his unique assets as a music industry powerhouse. A third such person renounced the right to act as an executor, or fled, before Jackson died. Perhaps he had some share of the litigation that would take place on Jackson’s death. The two remaining executors seem ideally suited for the job. Similarly, Jackson’s mother seems ideally suited to be guardian of his children. The idea of appointing multiple executors, each with separate responsibilities, or special executors with decision-making power over particular aspects of an estate is not a new one. Many authors have named a literary executor, just as intellectuals or artists have named a similar special executor to safe-guard and oversee their works.

Executors can have incredible power over a deceased’s legacy. Jackson’s executors are already reaping hundreds of millions of dollars for the estate with the business deals they are making. However, if they make bad decisions, the value of estate assets, such as Jackson’s back-catalogue or the reproductive and licensing rights to his works, image and name could be impaired. Given the sums involved, there could still be much to fight over!

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