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Jackson family seeks delay in naming will executor

ANTHONY McCARTNEY | 7/6/2009, 10:20 a.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Michael Jackson's family wants a judge to delay the appointment of two men as temporary administrators of the pop superstar's estate, a person close to the Jacksons said.

The family is looking for the delay at a hearing Monday so they can look deeper into his affairs, to see if another will emerges, and to accommodate Jackson's memorial service on Tuesday, said a person close to the family who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.
"It has been very insensitive, particularly to this family, that you would even schedule a court hearing on the status of the mother, the day before she has to go to the cemetery for her son," the Rev. Al Sharpton, a friend of the Jacksons, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday. "It's almost insulting."

The person who spoke on condition of anonymity said Sunday that the family wants the delay in naming attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain, who are designated in a five-page will filed Wednesday as administrators to shepherd Jackson's estate into a private trust.

Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, was granted some limited powers over the singer's estate days after his death. But because Branca and McClain are named as executors in the 2002 will, it's expected that they would be granted more authority to oversee Jackson's estate, estimated in court filings as being worth more than $500 million, in Monday's scheduled hearing.

Jackson's mother and those close to her want "time to further investigate the circumstances and individuals that were surrounding Michael Jackson during his final days," the person close to the family said.

"We don't have the answers," Sharpton told ABC. "But we do have the questions, and we know how to make those questions loud and clear. We owe it to Michael to get to the bottom of what happened."

In court filings, attorneys for Katherine Jackson ask Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff to delay naming Branca and McClain as the estate's administrators. Attorneys for the two men argue their appointment is crucial to controlling Jackson's diverse financial interests and its liabilities, which include refunds due on a series of London concerts that have been canceled, and several lawsuits.

The person close to the Jackson family said late Sunday that Katherine Jackson also wants the delay to see if any newer wills emerge. An older will had already been presented, the person said.

"She wants to know what happened to her son before appointing individuals to take over his estate worth over a billion dollars," the person said.

In court filings, Katherine Jackson's attorneys state it would be "premature" to contest the 2002 will, but they also note that several wills may have been filed. The 2002 will stated that Jackson wanted his three children entrusted to his mother, Katherine, who has been named a temporary guardian until July 13.

Attorneys for Branca and McClain said last week they do not expect any other wills to emerge.

Monday's hearing will be crucial in deciding who takes control of Jackson's financial empire, which includes an estimated $400 million in debt. A judge on Thursday delayed a hearing on who should have custody of Jackson's three children, making Monday's hearing entirely about the singer's fortune.

"This is going to be a very important hearing in the sense of giving the public an indication of where the case is heading and what the judge is thinking about," said Lawrence Heller, an estate planning attorney for the Santa Monica office of the firm Bryan Cave LLP.

Jackson's memorial service was planned for Tuesday, a day after the hearing over his financial affairs. Thousands of fans were expected to attend the service in Los Angeles. More than 1.6 million people registered to win the coveted free tickets.

Downtown hotels were quickly filling Monday, and police warned those without tickets to the memorial to stay away. There was no funeral procession planned and the service will not be shown on outdoor screens.

Last week, Katherine Jackson was given authority over some of her son's possessions, including items taken from his Neverland Ranch that were slated for auction earlier this year, but not his finances. She had sought to control Jackson's finances and the estate of his children, but that was before Branca and McClain filed the will.

Beckloff, perhaps sensing a rift between the two sides, urged attorneys for Katherine Jackson and the two men to meet before Monday's hearing and try to reach a compromise.

No agreement between the two sides had been announced as of Sunday. Katherine Jackson's temporary control of the Neverland items expires Monday.

Experts say the Branca and McClain have an upper hand going into Monday's court hearing because they were designated by Jackson. In Branca's case, he helped organize one of the singer's smartest financial moves - acquiring a stake in the Sony-ATV Music Publishing Catalog, which includes music by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers.

Branca also helped Jackson acquire the rights to his own master recordings, which include ample material for new music to be released posthumously.

Gaining even temporary control of Jackson's estate is key, attorneys for Branca and McClain argue in court filings, because they can begin tapping into the singer's earning potential by licensing "records, music, TV, publishing, pay-per-view, theatrical" properties.

Attorney Jeryll S. Cohen told Beckloff on Wednesday that the men also could minimize the loss of an estimated $85 million in ticket refunds required for Jackson's canceled London concerts. Randy Phillips, president and CEO of concert promoter AEG Live, said Thursday that the company has ample material for a possible movie, live album and other media that will likely allow them to break even on their Jackson investment.

A temporary administrator would also have the power to take over numerous lawsuits pending against Jackson, including a $44 million federal claim filed by former publicist Raymone Bain, two lawsuits filed by "Thriller" director John Landis, and another one filed by "Thriller" co-star Ola Ray.

Temporary administrators would also control 2,000 items taken from Neverland Ranch that were slated for an auction halted by the singer this year. The items, which include awards, clothing and numerous other unique items taken from Jackson's former home, were expected to fetch at least $12 million.