Inside the Fight Over Michael Jackson’s $2 Billion Estate — and His Mom’s Battle with Her Grandson Bigi

The estate refuses to pay Katherine Jackson’s legal bills, as they say she’s already been paid millions, and Bigi objects to covering her expenses

In a hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom on Friday, March 22, Katherine Jackson continued to face legal hurdles with the estate of her late son and music icon Michael Jackson.

In addition to her ongoing appeal of a previous court decision, the Jackson family matriarch is now fighting against her grandson Bigi (formerly known as Blanket) over whether her legal bills should be paid from the estate’s funds.

Attorney John Branca and A&R executive John McClain, the co-executors of Jackson’s estate, received a favorable ruling last year in probate court. The decision, related to a reported $600 million sale of half of Jackson’s music catalog to Sony, allowed them to move forward with the proposed deal — despite Katherine’s objection to it.

In a recent appellate brief filed by the estate, Branca and McClain explained that “they believed the transaction is to the Estate’s advantage and in the best interest of the beneficiaries,” which are Jackson’s three children, Paris, Prince and Bigi, as well as unnamed charities.

 Katherine Jackson and Blanket

Michael Jackson’s mother Katherine Jackson and son Blgi attend a ceremony honoring late singer at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles in August 2011.

The executors claim they negotiated the deal to take advantage of an asset market that was “by far the hottest it had ever been,” according to a recent appellate brief filed by the estate. The sale purportedly lets the estate maintain “effective control over Michael’s music” while diversifying its assets. According to the brief, all three children were consulted with their counsel beforehand and had no objections to the sale.

“I don’t think I can resolve this today,” judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, who will be retiring next month, and has presided over various Jackson rulings for the past 15 years, said on March 22. “My hope was that maybe you all would be able to resolve it on your own.”

Prince Michael Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Blanket Jackson, and Paris Jackson attend the immortalization of Michael Jackson at Grauman's Chinese Theatre Hand & Footprint ceremony on January 26, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

From left: Prince Michael Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Bigi Jackson and Paris Jackson in 2012.

However, since that’s been unsuccessful, he announced that a new judge will oversee the case.

In the filing, the executors claim the estate was saddled with debt and on the verge of bankruptcy when Michael Jackson died in June 2009.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson preforms before an estimated audience of 60,000 in Brunei on July 16, 1996.

“Exercising the powers granted in Michael’s will as confirmed by the probate court, they entered into business transactions involving the estate’s assets that skyrocketed the estate’s value to over $2 billion,” the recent appellate brief stated. In court, the executor’s attorney Jonathan Steinsapir acknowledged this point and thanked the judge for giving guidance over the years to make the estate so profitable today.

“You may not be the judge who finally lands this plane, but we are definitely getting close,” Steinsapir said. “We haven’t had a dispute like this in years — and it’s not that big of a dispute — but we just wanted to thank you.”

The estate’s brief claims Katherine was the only party to file a written objection to the sale of the megastar’s assets. According to the estate, she believed they did not exercise “ordinary care and diligence” and argued that it was better “to wait a few years to maximize the value.” Per the brief, the estate also claims Katherine felt that the executors had not sufficiently shopped the “transaction” around to determine fair market value and that the estate should “have obtained a premium payment.” According to Billboard, the music assets are valued at over $1.2 billion.

The Jackson estate couldn’t be reached for comment. Reps for Katherine and Bigi have yet to respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Bigi Jackson attends the Annual THRILLER NIGHT Halloween Party, hosted by Prince Michael Jackson, at Jackson Family Home on October 28, 2022

Bigi Jackson attends the Annual THRILLER NIGHT Halloween Party on October 28, 2022.

In December, Katherine filed motions asking the estate to pay for her legal bills stemming from her objections, including the ongoing appellate case. In court filings obtained by PEOPLE, Bigi argued that the estate shouldn’t foot the bill, claiming it would be “unfair” to force him and his siblings to pay for that case since his grandmother’s efforts are an “extreme longshot.”

However, according to the court filings, Bigi isn’t entirely against his grandmother’s request. He “does not object to reasonable attorney fees and costs” for her initial objection to the deal as she presented “essential evidence.” But he believes “the overall amount for the trial might be high,” and he questions if “four lawyers charging fees of $840 to $1,400 per hour was necessary.”

After the filing, Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson posted on social media in support of Katherine. “Fair warning: Keep bad mouthing and throwing low blows at my 93-year-old grandma and my gloves will come off. Do you really want me to enter this ring? #FamilyFirst.”

Michael Jackson's Daughter Paris Jackson

Paris Jackson in 2023; Michael Jackson in 2005.

During closing arguments in court last year, Bigi — for the first time — opposed the estate’s proposed transaction with Sony in support of his grandmother and sister Paris, but it was later revealed by his attorney that it was “simply a semantic device” to enable the probate court to “personally evaluate [the transaction] for my client.”

Jackson’s daughter Paris briefly appeared on Zoom and said she was “with my grandmother and little brother [Bigi] on this.” But after the judge approved the transaction, Jackson’s three children accepted the court’s decision, while Katherine was the only family member to file an appeal, which is currently pending.

“Given those odds, Bigi decided not to waste his resources to participate in an appeal,” his attorney stated in a recent court document filed on March 18. “Nonetheless, Katherine has decided to appeal this court’s ruling. That decision is not for the benefit of the heirs.” The estate also noted that Katherine opposed the release of the 2009 documentary This Is It, but the film, ultimately approved by the court, became the highest-grossing concert documentary in history (more than $260 million worldwide), a record it held until the release of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour last year.

Katherine is a life beneficiary of a portion of the trust, and a source close to the estate says that she has received more than $55 million since the singer’s death. “Virtually no request of Mrs. Jackson for her care or maintenance has been declined,” the estate contends in new filings, obtained by PEOPLE, which argue that it should not have to cover her legal bills.

“There are a couple of points I wanted to make,” Katherine’s attorney Adam Pines said in court on Friday, once again requesting that the estate pay the half a million dollars in attorney fees Katherine has accumulated while appealing last year’s decision.

“The executors’ principal argument is that their hands are tied, that the money is stuck in the estate, and it can’t be distributed to the trust yet and all these things that might happen. But we also live in reality, and we just received their accounting for 2020 — one year — and they have $35 million in distribution from the estate, including $2.3 million for public relation consultants. Millions and millions of dollars they are paying out,” he said, pausing momentarily.

“But when they say, ‘Oh, we can’t pay this, our hands are tied, and the procedural requirements have not been met,’ I don’t think it’s fair,” he continued. “This year, $5 million were paid for Katherine’s taxes. I appreciate that they did that, but it’s certainly a confirmation that they can pay this amount.”

Michael Jackson announces plans for Summer residency at the O2 Arena at a press conference held at the O2 Arena on March 5, 2009 in London, England.

Michael Jackson at 02 Arena on March 5, 2009.

“I didn’t say it was fair, and I didn’t say it was the right position,” Judge Beckloff responded. “I just can’t get there because of the state defendant and the facts that are being contested.

I don’t think it’s a situation where we can all say there is no disputed facts involved and the court can just go decide this matter. I’m not saying either side is right in this. I’m just saying I can’t get past the procedural hurdles to make a decision. And, you know, Bigi made it clear that in his view, the appeal fees are not reasonable.”

The next court hearing will be scheduled on or before May 30, 2024.

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