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Marlene Cooper Law

Death, the Great Equalizer

The death of Michael Jackson (“MJ”) was big news. Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened by his death and spent a lot of time watching and reading media reports about him, his family and his legacy.

Even though MJ and his contributions to music will go down in history, his death left 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?

Since it was determined that MJ was a resident of the State of California, his estate went through the same process of analysis 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(s) on, or title of, those assets. Following is a brief explanation of what happens to 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.

We now know that MJ had a living trust. Where an asset is 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 MJ had any assets that were not jointly owned, in an account designated for a beneficiary or in the MJ trust, those assets are subject to the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Superior Court. The assets have to go through a legal process called probate in order for those assets to be distributed to MJ’s heirs. If he had a “pour-over will” (one that transfers probate assets to his living trust for distribution), the asset will be distributed according to the terms of the trust. If he did not have a pour-over will, his three children will share equally in the assets under the law of intestate succession since he was not married.

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. © 2013 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.

Marlene Cooper Law