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Battle to control Jackson's fortune begins

By RYAN NAKASHIMA
AP Business Writer

LOS ANGELES - So, who gets Michael Jackson's riches?

His mother took the first step Monday when she petitioned the Superior Court of California to be named the administrator of the late singer's estate. Katherine Jackson said in the filing she was acting to ensure Michael Jackson's three children are the beneficiaries.

It's the opening salvo in a complicated battle for a fortune that includes a lucrative music catalog of the King of Pop's own hits, the rights to songs by the Beatles, and the Neverland ranch that could one day be a tourist attraction.

There's even an elaborate video production, dubbed the "Dome Project," that was overseen by Jackson and finished two weeks before he died.

The high stakes and array of people involved will likely make the fight far more convoluted than recent high-profile squabbles over the estates of singer James Brown and ex-Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith.

"There's no doubt that there's going to be a big battle," said Alexis Martin Neely, a Los Angeles-based estate attorney. "It's going to be very messy and I don't see anything comparing to this."

Complicating matters is that few, if any, people know all the details of the reclusive entertainer's financial affairs. His mother's filing, for example, declares that Jackson died "intestate," or without a will. But that is in dispute. Another person with knowledge of Jackson's business matters told The Associated Press last Friday that there is a will, which would take precedent in court. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the material.

Becoming an estate administrator "puts a vast amount of power in one person's hands," said Roy Kozupsky, a lawyer with Smith, Gambrell & Russell. The person would have the power to sell assets, make deals and determine how to pay off creditors, he said.

At stake is Jackson's 50 percent ownership in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a company itself estimated to be worth $2 billion; Jackson's own recordings and songwriting rights, which could be worth more than $150 million; and his joint ownership of the Neverland ranch.
Katherine Jackson said in her filing she intends to use the estate's assets for "the exclusive use of the decedent's (Jackson's) three children." But the filing could also be the first move in contesting the validity of a will, if there is one, Kozupsky said.
Jackson, who died Thursday at age 50, left behind three children: son Michael Joseph Jr., known as Prince Michael, 12; daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11; and son Prince Michael II, 7. The youngest was born to a surrogate mother, while the first two were born to ex-wife Deborah Rowe.

The list of potential parties seeking a piece of Jackson's estate is long, ranging from financial firms to the companies involved in his planned comeback. Among them is AEG Live, the concert promoter that booked Jackson for 50 sold-out performances at London's O2 arena starting next month.

AEG Live reportedly gave Jackson a $20 million advance, which it may seek to recover from the estate. AEG Live declined to comment.

How much AEG can recover will likely depend on the wording of insurance policies it took out and whether they included protection against "medical conditions or another event," said Mary Craig Calkins, a partner at Howrey LLP who handles insurance recovery cases for TV and film productions.

The promoter took out about $18 million in insurance through Lloyd's of London, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

A big part of determining what the estate is worth — and how much it owes in taxes — will depend on how much Jackson owed to creditors. Estimates put the tally around $400 million.

The federal government will be able to collect around 45 percent in tax on the value of the estate's assets, minus its debts and administration costs including attorney fees.

It appears that the most valuable assets will likely remain in the estate's control.
The Sony/ATV stake and 100 percent of Mijac, the company that controls Michael Jackson's own music, were held in a trust whose beneficiaries are Jackson's children. That trust is safe from creditors, said Al Malnik, its former trustee and Jackson's business adviser from 2002 to 2005.

"The assets were protected through the trust against creditors," Malnik said Monday.

Jackson used those assets as collateral to secure $200 million in loans from Bank of America in 2001. He then refinanced several times. Malnik said the loan total reached $275 million by the time he quit as trustee in 2005. Fortress Investment Group LLC, which took control in 2005, sold the loans off entirely "over a year ago," said company spokeswoman Lilly Donohue.

It is unclear who holds the loans now, but one candidate is Colony Capital LLC, a Los Angeles real estate firm owned by billionaire Thomas Barrack, which also set up a joint venture with Jackson to own Neverland, the 2,500-acre property in Santa Barbara County that once included amusement park rides and zoo animals.

Barrack had lunch with Jackson brothers Jackie, Jermaine and Tito on Saturday at Neverland.

Jackson's estate is still growing through record sales and songwriting rights.
So far this year, some 297,000 of his albums have sold in the U.S., and that's not including last week, when sales spiked in the wake of the singer's death. Jackson's existing works will continue to sell well, said Keith Caulfield, senior charts manager for Billboard magazine.

"He's good for at least a half a million albums a year," Caulfield said.
Songwriting rights also keep earning revenue. Jackson wrote many of the songs he recorded including "Beat It," "Bad," and "Black or White."

For the past three years, Jackson has ranked among the top-earning 100 U.S. songwriters for royalty payments collected by Broadcast Music Inc.

"Michael Jackson is the number one international songwriter in the world for BMI. He is it," BMI chief executive Del Bryant said, adding that use of the singer's songs outside of the U.S. earn more than $1 million dollars annually just for Jackson's share of the royalties.

Warner-Chappell Music, a division of Warner Music Group Corp., is Jackson's music publisher, meaning it promotes use of his songs and lyrics in commercials and TV shows. Jackson's own works, plus scores of song rights he purchased, gross several million dollars per year.

Jackson also owns the master recordings of his own albums such as "Thriller" and "Bad" and had a distribution deal with Sony, according to a person familiar with his finances, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the material.

The surge in interest in his music could inflate the value of assets held by his estate, and the tax bill owed to the U.S. government.

"Unfortunately due to his demise, the value of these entities has increased substantially," Malnik said.
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AP business writers Alex Veiga in Los Angeles and Stevenson Jacobs in New York contributed to this report.