NEW YORK — Entering into a business relationship with Michael Jackson rarely meant a long-lasting partnership. Over time, especially in the waning years of his life, Jackson hired — then fired — a litany of associates, from managers to attorneys to publicists.
Most were dispatched after the relationship soured, and the trust had evaporated.
Perhaps the one exception in his financial life was Jackson's mother, Katherine.
Jackson relied on his 79-year-old mother for more than emotional support: Documents show he put her in the position of trustee on contracts, including his lucrative Sony-ATV catalog, and associates say he also sought her input on other financial matters as he became more wary of those in his business circle.
"Any deal Michael did, he always called his mother up," said Steve Manning, a close friend of the Jackson family. "She was the backbone of his spirit."
"What he trusted was that she would make sure that his wishes were carried out," said Mrs. Jackson's attorney, L. Londell McMillan, who is representing her interests as the singer's estate is sorted out. "He understood that she was the most loyal person in his life. Her loyalty did not stop for Michael with merely personal matters."
But Jackson's last known will, drafted in 2002, left his mother, along with his three children, out of any decision-making role in his estate, leaving her only as a beneficiary.
Attorney John Branca and Jackson's former manager and close friend, John McClain, were named (along with a third party who has since removed himself) as the only people with the authority to guide his business matters after his death.
Will mother gain some monetary control?
Mrs. Jackson is trying to change that, seeking to gain some kind of control over her late son's estate. The Jackson matriarch is adamant that she — or even another family member — have a role over Michael Jackson's business legacy, which may be worth more in death than when he was alive. Some estimates have valued his estate at $500 million.
Mrs. Jackson has filed a motion to determine whether contesting the two executors would lead to disinheritance — Jackson's will had a no-contest clause.
Michael Jackson’s inner circle"She is concerned about how the trust is going to be managed. She wants to make sure that she has a seat at the table and the family has a seat at the table," said Dean Hansell, an attorney who spoke for Mrs. Jackson in court Monday. "She wants that and she has been coming up against resistance."
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But in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Branca said he is amenable to having Mrs. Jackson, or someone in the family, in a trustee role.
"We are going to have a meaningful conversation with her about having one of her family members become a co-trustee," Branca said. "Our number one priority is to make sure this estate is run effectively."
Throughout the years, Jackson's devotion to his mother has been well-documented, and it was proven again after his death, as he named her in his will as his first choice to raise his three children, and also named her and his kids as the only individuals to inherit his fortune (he also left a portion of his wealth to charity).
Mother gave Michael Jackson his shrewd business sense
Katherine Jackson has not previously been known for her business acumen. It was Joe Jackson who was the manager of his sons as the Jackson 5, and acted as the manager for all of his nine children into their adult years.
Slideshow: The face of change But Manning claims it was Katherine, not Joe, who gave Michael Jackson his business sense, which he described as shrewd and fair.
He recalled when Jackson purchased the Beatles catalog, which also included Little Richard's music, he called his mother to ask her opinion on how he should handle Little Richard's situation: the rock legend had for years complained about being unfairly compensated for his publishing rights. His mother advised him to treat Little Richard with respect, and because of that, "(Michael) made sure that Little Richard was compensated fairly."
He also said that when Michael Jackson's MJJ Productions fell on hard times, "Michael made sure with his mother that every employee was paid."
"She is a woman of great faith, and believes if you treat people right, (good) things will come back to you."
Jackson named his mother on at least two trusts — besides the Sony-ATV music catalog, she's a part of his Mijac publishing company — and McMillan said she was active in Jackson's business affairs, even attending depositions in legal cases.
However, a source who asked for anonymity because of the ongoing nature of the situation said those trustee positions did not have decision-making authority.
Whether Mrs. Jackson has the business capacity to deal with Jackson's estate, which is complicated and tangled, is likely to be a key question. She and Joe filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago, listing nearly $24 million in debts that included court judgments, auto loans and credit cards. Court records show the only valuable asset listed was a house in Las Vegas then valued at $290,000.
McMillan said the role of a trustee does not require a person to be a business whiz.
"A trustee is one of trust as opposed to extraordinary skill," he said. "Trustees hire experts to administer business that requires experts."
Manning said Mrs. Jackson is confident that her legal team would do an excellent job with her guidance. He also raised the possibility that one of Jackson's five brothers could have a role in the estate: "That would be the right thing to do, the right thing to happen."
Legally, Mrs. Jackson may not be able to have an official role. Both Branca and Hansell said the addition of Katherine as an executor of the will or a trustee of the trust might raise tax questions because she is a beneficiary.
Branca was Jackson's attorney for many years, working with him during the height of his fame and helping negotiate his deal to buy the Beatles catalog. But they split in 2005 until Branca was brought back shortly before Jackson's death as he prepared for his comeback concerts with the promoter AEG.
McClain has been very close with the family for decades, and was instrumental in building Janet Jackson's career. He also had played key roles in Michael Jackson's career in its later years.
Manning spoke highly of McClain, saying he has been "like a son" to the Jackson parents.
"He's like a confidant," he said. "He was very, very close to the family."
Branca and McClain have control of Jackson's estate until at least Oct. 3. They have already made several deals on behalf of Jackson's estate, including a reissue of his memoir "Moonwalk" and a full-length motion picture filled with footage of his last rehearsals, which requires a judge's approval. In a sign that Katherine Jackson's input is already being considered critical, the judge has scheduled a hearing Monday to see, among other things, whether she has any objections.
But McMillan claims Jackson would have wanted his mother to be part of any dealmaking as well, quoting Jackson's sentiments about his mother from a deposition: "For the past several years I have started using my mother because she is the most trusted person in my life. I trust my mother more than anyone."
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