With Michael Jackson dead and almost buried, the questions about his legacy, his will and his family’s future are just firing up. Apart from the location of his final resting place, not yet determined, so many other questions remain. Most of them are beyond awkward thanks to the complexity of the personal and financial wreckage left behind by his premature death at 50. Certainly trying to make sense of such a dizzying but bizarre rise and fall has created a celebrity circus not seen since Princess Diana’s unscheduled exit.

Even by Elvis Presley standards, his dying has provided one sensation after another. Popular culture commentator Ross Stapleton examines life after Michael Jackson in a five-part series. Today, the first instalment — Michael Jackon’s “last” will:

It’s patently clear through the efforts of attorneys representing Michael Jackson’s 79 year-old mother Katherine, who has been named as his three children’s temporary guardian, that she was not only seeking the children’s custody in line with his own request, but was determined to take control of his estate with what one lawyer termed unseemly haste.

Originally claiming there was no valid will, which was clearly intended to put her in the driver’s seat, she was granted temporary control over his estate. But then two days after her application, a final will dated July 7, 2002 (PDF copy here), in the care of highly respected music industry lawyer John Branca, was filed. He began representing Jackson back in 1980, and also advised on what turned out to be the greatest deal of Jackson’s life: his $47.5 million purchase in 1985 of ATV Music that handed him the publishing copyright to the Beatles songs.

Branca admits to falling out with Jackson in 2006 over his concerns with the motives of those then also advising him on business and career matters. So when Branca and another Jackson friend and industry figure, John McClain, whose Interscope record label is home to the Black Eyed Peas, stepped forward claiming to be co-executors of his will, this threw a spanner in the works.

Considerably adding to the intrigue of the 2002 will’s status — while others search for any other that might supercede it — is that Jackson only signed a letter just eight days before his death that specified Branca was once more retained as his lawyer. This letter set out their joint authority to supervise the administration of the Michael Jackson Family Trust set up to control all the assets of his estate in the event of his death.

This became formalised on Monday by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff in accordance with Jackson’s wishes. An application was approved for Branca and McClain to assume temporary control of the estate until the matter is again heard by the court on August 3.

CNN reported that in appointing them as special administrators until that date, the court rejected his mother’s request to continue to exercise interim administration, or be joint executor with the two men. Her lawyer provided a clear insight into her thinking when he informed the court: “Quite frankly, Mrs Jackson has concerns about handing over the keys to the kingdom.” That’s a rather interesting term of phrase considering Mrs Jackson is said to be a strong Jehovah’s Witness which Jackson long since turned his back on.

Still, despite questions about aspects of the 2002 will, his mother and father Joe (excluded from the will) are not going to challenge it for now. Perhaps encouraging them in this action, CNN reveals that the will came with a “no contest” clause whereby anyone who challenges it will automatically be excluded from the estate. As things stand, his mother will get 40% of the trust’s assets, his children another 40% and the remainder to unnamed children’s charities. However, the court agreed Mrs Jackson should be kept in the loop about any decisions the executors bring before the court.

With his first wife Debbie Rowe explicitly excluded, any “no contest” directive cuts no ice with her, but experts see her only chance of enjoying any future improved lifestyle resting with challenging for custody of the children, as biological mother of the two eldest. But any custody fight only adds to the already over-stocked supply of sensationalism that’s driven the Jackson death story since its inception. No wonder every tabloid magazine editor in the world now mutters a nightly word of gratitude to Jackson as their head hits the pillow! Between the internet and satellite television with its multiplicity of celebrity and entertainment-driven programming, millions of words and pictures now spew forth daily on every aspect of the astonishing car wreck Michael Jackson became.

Regardless of court decisions involving custody and disputes to do with his estate, the biggest headache facing his executors is coming to grips with what his realisable assets are going to be.

Apart from fixed assets such as real estate, his real wealth lies in the supervision and exploitation of Intellectual Property via his recordings and videos and licensing of Jackson properties such as memorabilia.

But it’s his extensive music publishing ownership that remains a moveable feast. Except that since 1994, he began using his publishing interests as firstly loan collateral and then more disastrously sold down a 50% stake in his ATV Music publishing asset to help fund not just his lavish lifestyle but a series of bad investments.

Tomorrow, Part 2: Beatles become Jackson’s security blanket

The author is a former Head of Artist Development for Virgin Records in London in the 1980s and personal publicist to some of their biggest selling acts.