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Ownership of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch remains deadlocked in legal battles

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When the eccentric and deeply troubled superstar Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 in 2009, he was over $500 million in debt. With many of the late singer's assets in probate, the fate of his fabled Neverland Ranch - once the site of private zoos, amusement park rides and a basketball court - launched legal battles that continue to this day.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Most of Jackson's surviving relatives say that the 2,500-acre property must stay in the family in order for his three children to inherit their birth home, the attorney for Jackson family matriarch Katherine Jackson says.

Eighty-two-year-old Katherine's role has remained Jackson's three children, Prince, 15, Paris, 14, and Blanket, 10. There are accusations by five of Katherine's other seven living children that the co-executors of Michael's debt-ridden estate, attorneys John Branca and John McClain, falsified the will.

Katherine remains the central figure because the will ultimately gives her 40 percent of the estate, of which McClain and Branca are executors until all debt and litigation are settled. Michael's children will also receive 40 percent, and the final 20 percent intended for charity.

Michael Jackson's formerly troubled estate has since generated $475 million in revenue in three short years, bringing all debt current and making a decision on the land possible within the next year.

"It is the wish of the beneficiaries that Neverland be kept in the family and Michael's children get to one day decide what to do with their old family home," Perry Sanders, Katherine Jackson's attorney, told The Daily.

"Unfortunately, the way things are set up in the trust code and state code, the trustees get to make decisions about the assets of the estate. So consequently, we're not aware of anything happening with it."

There had been discussion that the Neverland Ranch would become a tourist destination in the manner of Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion in Memphis, or into a world-class music school. Animal rights advocates, such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals want the land to be converted into a sanctuary for rescued exotic animals.

Singer Jermaine Jackson, Michael's older brother by four years had lobbied hard for the land to be developed into an amusement park, museum and concert venue celebrating his brother's legacy.

The chief executive officer of Colony Capital, the California investment firm that saved Neverland from foreclosure by buying Michael's $23 million mortgage in 2008, predicted he could sell the ranch for an astronomical $100 million. Santa Barbara County, where Neverland is located, has assessed the ranch's value at $29.2 million for tax purposes.

Hundreds of fans crowded Neverland's still-locked entrance last month, on the third anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. Many of those who had gathered there agreed it would be wonderful to transform the ranch into a testament to Jackson's life.

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