WYNNE THOMAS<br /><strong>SENIOR PARTNER AND A PRIVATE <br />CLIENT PARTNER AT DAWSONS LLP</strong><br /><br />THE death of Michael Jackson has, predictably, turned into something of a circus, with doctors, hangers-on and family members all keen to get across their side of the story. What has added to the interest and drama in this sad case is the fact that there is money involved – lots of money, in the form of property, song-rights and even (reportedly) sacks of cash. And the reason that this is an issue is because there appears to be confusion over who the singer wanted his fortune to go to after his death. Among the many lessons that Jackson’s life can teach, one is the importance of making a clear will. <br /><br />Jackson reportedly made a will in 2002 leaving all his assets to his children, his mother and several charities. There was no mention of his father Joe Jackson, who had questioned whether such a will existed, marking the start of what could be an intense legal battle over the estate. To complicate matters Jackson appears to have had substantial creditors, so administering his estate will not be easy.<br /><br /><strong>HIGH WORTH, HIGH STAKES</strong><br />Many families face similar battles to the Jackson family when a loved-one dies, so it is essential that one’s will is up to date in order to minimise possible areas of dispute. Few families are as complicated as Michael Jackson’s, but when children are involved, or where there has been a divorce or competing interest within two families, we have to ask, does the will reflect the deceased’s latest wishes and include or discount everyone they wished it to? Further, what did they owe and did they have enough to pay it off? The higher net worth the individual, the higher the stakes.<br /><br />And if there is no will, as Jackson’s father claims, this would do little to help his cause were Michael Jackson a UK citizen. Under English intestacy laws, the children of the deceased would take the whole of the estate, to be held on trust until they turn 18. In English law therefore, it would be in Joe Jackson’s interest to accept and contest the 2002 will. <br /><br /><strong>WATERTIGHT AS POSSIBLE</strong><br />There are numerous arguments available when contesting a will in England and Wales. One could allege that the deceased lacked testamentary capacity at the time of making the will and did not understand what he or she was doing. <br /><br />Alternatively, one could attack the will’s formal validity. For example, under English law, the will must be signed by the testator and witnessed by two people, both witnesses being present when the testator signs his will. Or you could allege “want of knowledge and approval”, meaning that the deceased either did not know of the contents of his or her will, or its implications. Finally, you might argue that the deceased was coerced into making his or her will in the way they did, or that the will was in fact a forgery, or the deceased was tricked into signing it without knowing what it was.<br /><br />When making a will it is essential that one ensures the document is as watertight as possible. It is vital to use a reputable and trusted solicitor and choose executors carefully, making sure they are people you trust to carry out your wishes.<br /><br />Should Joe Jackson claim that Michael’s will is defective, he may contest it through the courts. We will have to wait to see on which, if any, of the above grounds he chooses to base any argument.