Michael Jackson’s estate sued by former star defense witness Wade Robson nearly four years after Jackson’s Death: How the suit would be handled under Florida law, Part 1

June 25, 2013 will mark the four-year anniversary of the untimely demise of the man affectionately referred to by the masses as the King of Pop: Michael Joseph Jackson. Despite suffering from an infirmity that has ended the professional pursuits of actors, entertainers, and businessmen alike (Death!), Forbes Magazine reported in 2012 that Michael Jackson earned more money in the three years following his death than any other living artist. In fact, during those three years, Michael Jackson’s estate generated nearly half a billion dollars. Although unclear whether the result of Jackson’s vastly expanding fortune or his use of high priced attorneys during his life to defend him on multiple legal fronts, more than 55 creditor’s claims were filed in the months following the following Michael Jackson’s Last Will being admitted to probate on August 3, 2009 when Special Letters of Administration were issued and the notice of death was published. With claims ranging from the thousands of dollars to over one billion dollars, the 24 months following his death saw a flurry of creditors asserting claims against Jackson’s estate. While new claims have been nearly nonexistent over the past year and a half, May of 2013 saw an explosive new claim levied by a familiar face from Michael’s past: Wade Robson, star defense witness in Michael Jackson’s 2005 criminal trial. Robson, who had for years maintained that Jackson never sexually molested him, claimed that he had uncovered repressed memories of molestation by Jackson and asked a California probate court to allow him to file a late creditor’s claim against the Estate of Michael Jackson, based on new allegations sexual abuse alleged to have occurred over 20 years ago.

Though Michael Jackson’s newest legal battle will play out on the opposite side of the country in a California courtroom, it presents a good opportunity to discuss the protections provided by the Florida Legislature, to both creditors and beneficiaries, in the years following the administration of an estate. The Florida legislature has recognized a “strong public policy in favor of settling and closing estates in a speedy manner” and has adopted statutes geared towards addressing this policy goal. Barnett Bank v. Estate of Read, 493 So.2d 447, 448 (Fla.1986). Had the Jackson estate been administered in Florida, Mr. Robson would have several difficult hurdles to overcome in the form of Sections 733.702 and 733.710 of the Florida Probate Code, which deal with the limitations on presenting claims against an estate. Section 733.710 imposes a limitation of two years after the death of a person for bringing a claim against their estate. While there are certain exceptions to this rule, the Florida Probate Code’s broad sweeping language makes it imperative that you consult with a probate attorney as soon as possible if you think that you have a claim against an estate to avoid the possibility of being time barred. In Mr. Robson’s case, the delay in bringing his claim would have all but assured that he would not have been able to recover against the estate. The Florida Supreme Court held in 2000 that “section 733.710 is a jurisdictional statute of nonclaim that is not subject to waiver or extension in the probate proceedings.” May v. Illinois Nat. Ins. Co., 771 So.2d 1143, 1150 (Fla. 2000). This rule applies to both administered and unadministered estates, so if you think that you may have a claim, you should contact a qualified probate attorney to ensure that you are not time barred from recovering against the estate. Creditor’s Claims LPC FL-CLE 6-1, LITIGATION UNDER FLORIDA PROBATE CODE, § 6.7 (2003).

If you, or someone you know, needs to bring a claim against an estate or wishes to challenge a claim being brought against an estate, the experienced legal team at Chepenik Trushin LLP is ready, willing, and able to assist you. See next week’s blog post for additional issues relating to Robson’s claim against the Michael Jackson estate and how Florida law would treat those issues were the claim brought in Florida instead of California.