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Quincy Jones Sues Estate of Michael Jackson, But Who Controls and Owns MJ’s Estate?

It was announced last week that legendary super producer Quincy Jones sued the estate of the late Michael Jackson seeking an award of $10 million dollars for owed royalties based upon claims of breach of contract and loss of credit. In the suit, Jones claims that both Sony and Michael Jackson Productions intentionally devised a scheme to cut him out of royalties by remixing and editing songs he originally produced from the “Off The Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad” albums to be used in the “This Is It” movie, “Cirque du Soleil” show and also the 25th Anniversary of the “Bad” album.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, under the contracts, Jones should have been given first opportunity to re-edit and remix any of the master recordings and that he was entitled to producer credit for the master recordings, as well as additional compensation if the masters were remixed.

What Does This Mean, and Exactly who controls and owns what from MJ’s estate?:

Michael Jackson was reportedly the world’s highest earning deceased celebrity for the last 12 months, bringing in $160 million this year alone.  According to the the pop star’s last will and testament, which was allegedly executed on July 7, 2002, the current co-executors of his estate are  John Branca (Jackson’s lawyer of 20 years), John McClain (a longtime friend of the Jackson family and music executive) and Barry Siegel (an accountant, who later resigned as co-executor in 2003). An executor of an estate handles the allocation of assets and the payment of taxes, judgments and debts.

Based upon the last will, MJ’s assets and interests were to be placed in a trust known as Michael Jackson Family Trust, which stipulates a distribution of assets as such: 20 percent to charity, and the remainder to be split between a lifetime trust for Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, and a trust for his children to be split evenly. Upon his mother’s death, the remaining funds (if any) would go to his children.

It has been reported that four years from the date of his death, MJ’s estate had made well over $600 million dollars, but owed debts totaling more than $500 million. The executors have allegedly disbursed a total of $30 million to Michael’s mother for herself and as guardian of the children (prior to joint custody later being awarded to one of Michael’s nephews last year) and have held on to the remainder of MJ’s assets to settle debts, pay taxes, etc.

With that said, any claims against Michael’s estate (i.e. – claims of past child abuse, IRS claims for back taxes and now this suit from Quincy Jones) will be handled by the executors and the lawyer for the estate, Howard Weitzman. In a statement released by Weitzman after the filing of the suit, he stated, ”The state of Michael Jackson was saddened to learn that Quincy Jones has filed a lawsuit seeking money from Michael’s estate. To the best of our knowledge, Mr. Jones has been appropriately compensated over approximately 35 years for his work with Michael.”

How Does This Affect You? :

Everyone with assets, such as a house, car, life insurance, pensions, bank accounts, etc., should be encouraged to have a last will and testament in place to dictate who will be the executor of your will and assets within your estate. Additionally, all bequests will be properly allocated according to your wishes, and even certain custody issues involving minors may be ironed out if a properly drafted and executed will is located and admitted for probate. Probate Courts in each state handle the administration and allocation of assets and collection of debts once a person passes away and a will is admitted.

If someone passes away without a will in place, they are deemed to have died “intestate” (i.e. – without a will). Each state dictates subjectively in their statutes how assets will be allocated if you die “intestate” depending on if you are married, have children or have no living heirs.

Even after death, certain creditors and even the tax man may show up to seek payment from your executors on your behalf. A will can assist all family members during this grief stricken time to have order in how you desired to part with your worldly possessions. Just because a person has passed away, that does not mean all of their creditors, past and present, just go away. As Michael Jackson earned a whopping $160 million dollars just last year, you can most certainly believe that those who had past or present issues with the King of Pop will still show up to collect.

Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates ( She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.

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