A judge has granted Michael Jackson's mother limited control over some property in her son's estate after she expressed concerns about ensuring that his three children are its beneficiaries.
The order issued Monday by Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff allows Katherine Jackson to assume control of Jackson's personal property now in the hands of an unnamed third party.
It does not detail the nature of those items and does not provide control of any money in the estate.
The request by Katherine Jackson said she wants to take possession of thousands of items removed from Neverland Ranch that had been slated for an auction that was later scrapped.
Earlier the same day, Katherine, 79, was granted temporary guardianship of the singer's three children.
The court filing for control of Jackson's estate states that his parents believe he died without a valid will.
Supporting Katherine Jackson in her petition bid to administer the estate was Jackson's father, Joe Jackson.
The court documents stated that Katherine Jackson "intends to marshal assets of the decedent for the exclusive use of the decedent's three children — her grandchildren — after payment of debts and expenses of administration."
The guardianship filing lists the children as living at the Jacksons' family compound in the San Fernando Valley, northwest of Los Angeles.
"Minor children are currently residing with paternal grandmother," the filing states in an explanation of why Katherine Jackson should be appointed guardian. "They have a long established relationship with paternal grandmother and are comfortable in her care."
Londell McMillan, the Jacksons' attorney, said the family hasn't heard from Deborah Rowe, the mother of Jackson's two oldest children, about custody.
"I don't think there will be anybody who thinks that there is someone better" than Katherine Jackson to have custody, McMillan said on NBC's "Today" show. "She is a very loving host of other grandchildren."
Jackson left behind three children: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince Michael, 12; Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, 11; and Prince Michael II, 7. The youngest son was born to a surrogate mother.
Given the secrecy surrounding Michael Jackson's children throughout his life, it's no surprise that there are lingering questions about who will care for them after his death. What is almost certain is this: Their fate will be decided in a courtroom.
Jackson's manager, Frank DiLeo, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he was the one who told the children their father had died.
"They knew when I came into the room," he said. "I'm sure they just saw it on my face. They said, 'say it's not true,' and I just said, 'I'm sorry."'
Jackson never told his family who he had in place to handle his business affairs, a person close to the family told The Associated Press on Friday. The person, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of the situation, said they were told by the singer's phalanx of advisers that he likely had a will, but it may be many years old.
Prince Michael II's mother has never been identified, and while she may surface, it is likely that she signed away her rights, said Stacy Phillips, a Los Angeles divorce attorney who has represented numerous high-profile clients.
Jackson was by several accounts an attentive and loving father.
"He was a great father," said Raymone Bain, Jackson's former publicist and general manager. "Those kids knew three and four languages. Even the little one. They were well mannered and sweet. I can't imagine these children without him."
He was extremely protective of his children, who weren't often seen in public, and were photographed wearing veils, masks or other items covering their faces when they were.
Rowe, a former nurse for Jackson's dermatologist, married Jackson in 1996 but filed for divorce in 1999. She later gave up her custody rights to the children, but petitioned to have those rights restored in 2003 after Jackson was arrested on child molestation charges, and an appeals court sided with her.
Jackson and Rowe apparently agreed in 2006 regarding her rights, but the terms have never been disclosed. The couple's divorce case that was heard in Los Angeles Superior Court remains closed.
Phillips said if her parental rights remain intact, she's presumed to be first in line to receive permanent custody of her two children. "That could still be contested," she added.
Rowe would have to undergo an evaluation by the court to determine if she's the best person to care for Jackson's children. So, too, would anyone else who applies to become the children's guardian — some of whom may have Jackson's blessing.
"If he did indicate a preference, that will be given great weight, but that will not be determinative," said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. "Children are not property, they cannot be willed to another person."
Allred agreed that Rowe has better legal standing than others who apply for custody of Jackson's eldest children. "She's definitely going to have an advantage."
But judges in California often take into account who is left in the children's lives with a strong bond, said Charlotte Goldberg, a family law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
"It's really a balance between continuity and stability and a biological relationship," Goldberg said.
A judge deciding the matter may even seek input in chambers from Jackson's children about who they feel comfortable with, she said.
But a court will also take into account with whom the children have a relationship bond, and that may not work in Rowe's favor. She wrote in a 2001 petition to sever her parental rights that she thought Jackson was doing a good parenting job.
"Michael has been a wonderful father to the children, and I do not wish to share any parenting responsibilities with Michael because he is doing so well without me," Rowe wrote. She also indicated in court filings during the 2006 custody struggle that she had not seen the children since 2005, shortly after his trial ended in acquittal on all charges and Jackson moved the children overseas.
It is unclear how often Rowe has seen the children since Jackson returned to the Los Angeles area in recent months to prepare for a 50-show concert engagement in London. It is also unclear what role the children's godfather, British child actor Mark Lester, may play in the proceedings.
Whoever wins custody of Jackson's children won't automatically gain control of their inheritance, Phillips said.
"For many people, the person or persons who are taking care of their kids are not necessarily taking care of their money," Phillips said. "There's a benefit to that — a sort of a check-and-balance."
Rowe, or whoever is designated the children's permanent guardian, will receive payments based on Jackson's estate, Phillips said.
More clarity about the fate of Jackson's children will likely come once court proceedings start.
Phillips said the custody issue will now be handled by a probate court. If it is filed at Los Angeles' main downtown courthouse, Phillips said it will be handled by judges with significant family law experience.
Phillips said the looming custody fight could be unlike any other.
"In all the cases I've read all over the country," she said, "I've never seen a fact pattern like this."
A hearing on the request for Jackson's estate is set for July 6, while a hearing over guardianship has been set for Aug 3.
The Associated Press has contributed to this report.