Michael Jackson left behind a tangled financial web, sure to take many years and many lawsuits to sort out. But he also left behind three young children (aged 12, 11 and 7) and, apparently, no valid will (at least, one has not yet been submitted to the Los Angeles County Probate Court as of this post). Today, June 30, his mother, Katherine Jackson, has been appointed as their temporary guardian. Hearings will be held on July 6 and August 3rd to determine if she'll become their permanent guardian.
Since this (to put it mildly) is getting a lot of media attention, here's the legal background:
A guardian is in charge of a minor's care and custody, which means their food, clothing, shelter, education and medical needs. A guardian has to be appointed by a court order -- it's a kind of custody order really, granting someone other than a parent legal authority over a minor's care. If there's an emergency, a court can grant a temporary guardianship quickly.
But between now and the hearings, Katherine Jackson will have to do her best to find and notify Deborah Rowe, the mother of Jackson's two eldest children (his youngest was born to a surrogate mother who presumably waived any parental rights as part of the surrogacy). At the hearing, a judge will consider what would be in the best interest of Jackson's children. The notification of the children's mother is required in order to make sure that she has a chance to object to the guardianship at that hearing -- ordinarily, a parent has precedence over anyone else unless there are unusual circumstances, which abound here.
If Michael Jackson's will is found, and proved to be his valid last wishes, and the nominated guardian is not Katherine Jackson, the named person may contest the guardianship proceeding, too. But ultimately, it will be up to the judge to sort out the competing claims and decide what's best for the children.
It is reported that the petition also requested that Katherine Jackson be named the temporary guardian of the children's estate, which means the person responsible for safeguarding Jackson's assets for the benefit of the children -- but this was rejected. AP also reports that Katherine Jackson has filed to be named the administrator of Jackson's estate -- the person who must inventory and appraise the estate's assets and manage them during what's likely to be a long and complicated probate proceeding.
To learn more about guardianships, see Nolo's Establishing and Maintaining a Guardianship FAQs.