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While the dispute surrounding the late Michael Jackson’s estate seems to evolve on a daily basis, Toronto-area estate lawyer Charles Ticker suggests that mediation might be worth a try.
In the latest developments, it is reported that several of Jackson’s siblings are claiming the singer’s will is fake and calling on executors of the estate to resign. A judge has also reinstated Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, as co-guardian of her grandchildren after a mysterious disappearance in July. Read Vancouver Sun story, read The Guardian Express story.
“I have read about the current dispute online and in the papers and I am not clear what the siblings are seeking. On the one hand they state they are not interested in money from the estate but then in the same breath, they are claiming the will is a forgery and that it does not represent Michael Jackson’s testamentary wishes,” says Ticker.
“In my experience, people usually seek to have a will declared invalid only if they have a vested interest in having the will set aside. My guess is that the siblings may be named in an earlier will,” he adds.
Ticker says he has had clients claiming wills are a forgery, but explains that this is very difficult to prove and involves the expense of getting forensic document examiners involved. “I have never seen a case where a forgery is alleged where there are lawyers involved with the drafting and execution of the will,” he adds.
Ticker says he has also been involved with many claims seeking the removal of executors.
“However, the courts will not remove executors unless there has been a clear breach of duty or the estate administration is deadlocked due to co-executors failing to work together,” he says.
“I haven’t had a case where an estate is limiting access, however, I have seen this in the context of power of attorney for personal care or guardianship disputes,” he adds.
As a lawyer focusing on wills, trusts, estate planning and estate litigation, Ticker says his initial concern is the well-being of the minor children involved.
“Clearly they have been traumatized by the tragic loss of their father and the fighting involving their grandmother and aunts and uncles has to have a detrimental effect on them. I note that Michael’s nephew TJ Jackson has been made a co-guardian along with Michael’s mother Katherine. I would hope that the court appoints a lawyer to represent the children’s interests if this has not already been done,” he says.
At the same time, Ticker also says he wonders about the late singer appointing his elderly mother as guardian.
“Many clients tend to name elderly parents or siblings as guardians of their minor children in their wills. Careful consideration has to be given as to who would be best equipped to look after the children’s best interests. Of course, any appointment in the will is subject to court approval and the guardian named in the will in Ontario must apply to the court within 90 days of the date of death for a formal custody order of the minor children under the Children’s Law Reform Act,” he explains.
With a view to resolving this type of dispute, Ticker suggests mediation would be worth a try, as well as keeping the case out of the press and gossip columns.
In Canada, says Ticker, most of these disputes will usually resolve at some stage prior to trial either by mediation or negotiated settlement. Mediation in estate disputes is mandatory in Toronto, Ottawa and Essex county.
“In other jurisdictions, most counsel agree to mediate. The court would also appoint independent counsel for the children and the Office of the Children’s Lawyer would get involved. Probably a trust company would be appointed as estate trustee during litigation,” he adds.