There’s a bit of a public rowdy-bout going with the Jackson Clan – namely the surviving relatives of legendary pop icon Michael Jackson seem to be in some kind of turf war for the heart and mind of family matriarch Katherine Jackson. A nephew filed a missing person’s report, though she’s apparently resting in Arizona. But her granddaughter Paris Jackson – the one she’s supposed to be looking after – said she hasn’t seen her grandmother in a week.

So just what the fudge is going on in Never Never Land? TMZ (the New York Times of celebrity gossip) says it’s all about MJ’s estate, who is the rightful executor over it, and who’s not in the will (read: his siblings).

The pop singer left everything to his three children, charity, and his mother.

From TMZ:

Randy and Jermaine Jackson are trying to get at Michael Jackson’s money by hatching a sinister plot involving Katherine Jackson … so claim sources connected with the Michael Jackson estate.

Randy, Jermaine, Janet, Tito, and Rebbie Jackson all signed a letter, demanding that the executors of the MJ estate step down, claiming the executors are failing so badly, the stress caused Katherine to suffer a stroke.

Sources connected with the estate are now lashing back, telling TMZ they believe Randy and Jermaine (they are not including the others) are strapped for cash and know when Katherine dies there is no way they can get their hands on a penny of MJ’s fortune — that’s because all of the money goes to charity and in trust for Michael’s 3 kids.

Our sources believe … Randy and Jermaine are trying to make it appear that Katherine is infirm and may need a conservatorship. And the sources further believe Randy and Jermaine will try and get themselves appointed as her conservators, which would give them access to more than $70,000 a month.

Maybe all is well and it’s simply a misunderstanding (although your granddaughter saying she can’t get in touch with her primary caretaker is odd), but money really does change a family dynamic, especially if bonds were already somewhat shaky to begin with.

I’ve seen this happen over and over, both as a newspaper reporter and in my personal life where entire families turn on each other in pursuit of an elder or dead member’s property, wealth, or home. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Sure, we all know the fights like this with wealthy people such as the Jacksons or James Browns’ heirs, or people with strong, family legacies like the many bouts of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s children, but I’ve seen families fall out over less than $10,000.

But it’s not just greed that causes these things to get messy.

Recently in Houston, a man injured one of his sisters by sending her a bomb in the mail while he and his siblings were in the middle of a $2 million inheritance fight. The fight apparently devolved to this after the two sisters fought to reduce the brother’s share in the inheritance. He retaliated by trying to hire a hitman to kill his sisters.

Author and estate planner Les Kotzer blames a lot of the fights on economics – our fiscal-minded, Depression Era grandparents who saved and our Boomer parents who spent themselves into debt, waiting on Mom and Dad’s savings to bail them out. But with everyone living longer thanks to modern medicine, things are getting a little pressed.

But it’s not just debt. What causes these disputes can be pretty much any and everything. It’s about old hurts about affairs, who “Mom and Dad loved best,” divorces, remarriages, step-siblings, adopted children, and even who was the one caring for a sick relative as that relative withered away.

Money fights aren’t about money. They’re a barometer indicating the health of a family as a whole. And if you’re ready to blow your sister up over $2 million, something tells me you probably haven’t gotten along with her for some time.

From author P. Mark Accettura’s book Blood & Money: Why We Fight Over Inheritance:

The combatants can always trace their problems back several years, if not all the way back to childhood. For some, the trouble starts with the involvement of nonfamily: “everything changed when dad remarried,” or “we all got along until my brother-in-law started calling the shots.” It is clear that inheritance conflict doesn’t come out of the blue; it is a continuation of long-term relationship problems that resurface upon the illness or death of a loved one. And they aren’t just about money or greed; they are about more, much more. But what is it that so often drives people to wage war against their own flesh and blood over a loved one’s estate?

I’ve had friends accuse relatives of “manipulating”  family elders into rewriting wills. I’ve seen people destroy property or steal items just to keep other relatives who they feel don’t deserve them from having those items. And we’re not talking priceless jewels or luxury cars. I’m talking couches and rugs and old, dusty savings bonds and dust collectors. I’ve seen a woman clean out her sister’s home –  a sister with whom she feuded constantly – after her death and refuse to give anything of the house to the sister’s only grandchild. The grandchild and the sister were the only direct relatives, as the dead woman’s children had passed away long ago. The sister wasn’t wealthy when she passed and had a plethora of health problems that ate up what little savings she had. When she died she was on assisted living, owned no car, and lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a state-funded community for elderly below the poverty-line.

But those knickknacks and plastic-covered couches were hers, dang it. She hissed that she wasn’t even sure if the granddaughter was a direct relative, even though the girl knew of no other family.

In his book Accettura writes about the five reasons families like the Jacksons may devolve into possible grandma-napping. It boils down to humans being predispositioned toward competition and conflict; family members wanting the sense of “approval” by the dead relative in receiving what a loved one has left behind – particularly if this person is a parent; human nature causing us to be “on the lookout” for being excluded – whether it’s happening or not; anxieties about death triggered by our loved ones’ passing; and finally, in some cases, a family member with a mental or personality disorder that makes them take family rivalries to a whole other level.

Worst-case scenario is when your family is hitting all five points.

So if you and your siblings or step-family or half-siblings or other relatives are not getting along all that great now, a death in the family and some odd few thousand dollars lying around probably won’t bring you closer. If anything, whatever problems currently present will only become more fractured and magnified, perhaps even irreversibly so, after a death.

Nothing like a decades’ old conflict to show there are some things out there thicker than blood – like bank accounts.

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