Appoint Guardians for Minor Children – Michael Jackson Did (Part I)

Do you have minor children? Who will take care of the children if you die? This is the number one reason for you to make a will.

Michael Jackson left a will in which he nominated his mother, Katherine Jackson, as guardian of his three children, Prince Michael Junior, aged 12, Paris Michael Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II (known as “Blanket”), 7. If Katherine is unwilling or unable to serve as guardian, he named his long-time friend Diana Ross.

It is a good thing that Michael Jackson had a will and that he made judicious choices about who would raise his children. But will his wishes be honored? Katherine has been appointed interim guardian pending a hearing. Debbie Rowe, Michael Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of his two oldest children, made comments to the media indicating that she wants custody of the children. It is unclear if her parental rights were terminated. The third child, Blanket, was born to a surrogate mother who has never been identified.

There are really two types of guardians with differing responsibilities: (1) Guardian of the person, which is physical custody of the minor, and (2) Guardian of the minor’s estate, which is the care and management of the minor’s property. It is not necessary that the same person hold both offices. The two functions can be split between different people.

In Pennsylvania, the law permits a surviving parent to name a guardian of the person for minor children in his or her will. However, the statute provides that no parent who, for one year or upwards previous to his death, shall have willfully neglected or refused to provide for his child, or who for a like period, shall have deserted the child or willfully failed to perform parental duties, may appoint a guardian.

In addition, Pennsylvania law permits anyone who gives property to a minor in his or her will to name a guardian of that property. Parents may name a guardian of the minor’s estate as well as guardian of the person. Other persons also may name guardians of the minor’s estate. For example, if grandparents leave their estate to a minor grandchild, the grandparents may name a guardian of the minor’s estate in their wills to manage the funds for the benefit of the minor grandchild, even if the parents are living and even if the parents do not agree with the choice.

Tune in next week for Part II.