Our major media has been placing so much focus on the “will” of Michael Jackson. This reminds me how many people, including our media, do not really understand the role of a will in a complete estate plan. I have read his will and it has a minor role.
Fox News made headlines indicating that the will excludes his ex-wife (Link to Fox News Article) while CNN explores the fact that Paul McCartney was not awarded rights to The Beatles music (Link to CNN article).
As a matter of fact I would have been surprised to have either of these issues addressed in his will – and it doesn’t. It is his trust that will control the ultimate transfer of Michael Jackson’s wealth. It is the terms of his trust that will determine if his ex-wife is a beneficiary or the handling of his catalogue of music rights. As far as I know, this trust is not a public document and should remain private.
Wills may provide for the ultimate distribution scheme but often times don’t. A will is very public, requires lawyers, necessitates a probate action, and causes delays. In other words, a will is really a letter to the judge.
Many times the most important aspect of a will is the naming of a guardian for minor children – as did Michael Jackson’s. The importance of this can not be understated and every parent of minor children should have a will for this purpose. When you have a trust in place it is the trust, and not the will, that controls the distribution of assets.
For many people the will is the instrument used for distribution of assets, for many others – like Michael Jackson – the will simply pours into a trust. The terms of the trust will then control. It is the trust, which may never be public, which will control distribution of the estate according to specific intentions of the Michael Jackson. For the vast majority of us, a trust is administered without court involvement, with the utmost privacy, with little hassle to survivors and in a very efficient manner.