[author: Sylvia Hsieh]
Five of Michael Jackson’s siblings who were left out of his will are calling the document a fake and claim his lawyers forged the King of Pop’s signature.
Janet, Jermaine, Rebbie, Randy, and Tito Jackson have questioned the date the document was signed, claiming that their brother was in New York on the date the will was signed in California.
The will, probated in Los Angeles, put his assets in a trust for his three children and his mother Katherine, 82, whose portion will pass to the children upon her death. MJ’s father and all of his siblings got nothing.
Meanwhile, the family’s disagreements seem to be snowballing – on the ground, on TV and in the Twittersphere. Sheriffs were called to the family compound over a minor scuffle between family members reportedly trying to remove Jackson’s children; Randy Jackson phoned in to Al Sharpton’s television show to blast the two attorneys, John Branca and John McClain, who are executors of the will; and daughter Paris Jackson filed a missing persons report for her grandmother and has taken to Twitter accusing people of trying to keep her away from Katherine, who was out of state. And last week a court awarded temporary guardianship of Michael’s three children, Paris, 15, Prince Michael, 14, and “Blanket,” 10, to Tito’s son T.J.
Challenging a Will
Objections to wills are very common, most typically brought by rival siblings who don’t feel they got their fair share, or by kids from a first marriage who are left out in favor of kids from the second marriage.
Attorney Sharon M. Siegel
In the case of Michael Jackson, his brothers and sisters most likely don’t have standing to challenge the will, said Sharon M. Siegel, a New York estate planning attorney.
In most states, the family members who are allowed to challenge a will are set out by statute, and their rights fall in a certain order, such as first rights going to the spouse, then to children, and so on.
Siegel suggested that in this case, the disgruntled siblings lack standing to challenge the will because the pop icon has children.
Getting a will thrown out is not an easy task. Many people do not realize that even if you do successfully challenge a will, that’s not the end of the process.
“If a will is found to be fraudulent, it goes back to the prior will, so you keep having to knock the prior wills out under the theory of revocation,” Siegel said.
Risks of DIY Wills
One of the reasons to hire a lawyer to write your will is that challenges to wills happen so frequently.
State laws require that a will meets certain criteria when it is signed, such as the number of witnesses present.
“The execution ceremony can make or break a will,” says Siegel. “It’s one very big reason why I encourage people not to buy a will off the Internet.”
A common scenario that leaves a will open to attack is one in which an elderly or sick individual uses a “do-it-yourself” will, drafts it alone in her apartment, and signs it with two home health aides as her witnesses.
On the other hand, Siegel says, “if you have an attorney draft and execute the will, there is a presumption that the execution ceremony is airtight.”
‘In Fear’ We Trust
If you suspect certain unhappy people will object to your will when you are drafting it, you should insert a clause known as an “in terrorem” clause (Latin for “in fear”). The clause basically states that anyone who challenges the will gets nothing. This can be helpful if you’re leaving unequal inheritances to children or other relatives.
However, the “in terrorem” clause only covers those who are in the will. Therefore, a spouse or child who is completely left out of a will can still challenge it. One way to make sure potential challengers are covered by the clause is to leave a small bequest to them, Siegel said.
“I’m a very big fan of the in terrorem clause. It saves people a lot of legal fees, a lot of time, and it shows your wishes. It’s a very, very powerful tool,” said Siegel.
Learn more about drafting a will, estate planning and the probate process, and locate an attorney in your area who can help you put your affairs in order by visiting Lawyers.com.
*Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Joel Ryan, file)