Jackson family in legal bid for his money

Mother accused of 'frankly improper race to courthouse' before funeral

The next round in the billion-dollar battle over Michael Jackson's estate will play out in a Los Angeles court today, as the singer's family spends the eve of his funeral applying for his possessions to be transferred to their control.

Judge Mitchell Beckloff will decide whether the King of Pop's worldly goods should be temporarily turned over to a trust that will benefit his mother, three children, and various charities.

Although the Michael Jackson Family Trust was created by what appears to be the singer's final will, written in 2002, the speed of the family's attempt to get its hands on the inheritance has prompted widespread criticism.

A lawyer for John Branca and John McClain, who are Jackson's executors, last week accused Katherine Jackson, 79, of "a race to the courthouse that is, frankly, improper".

A stone's throw from Los Angeles Superior Court, where a record 70 news organisations have applied to broadcast live from 9am local time [5pm GMT], plans are taking shape for Jackson's private funeral and public memorial service tomorrow. More than 1.6 million people registered for tickets to the service at the Staples Centre, a sports arena and concert venue in central Los Angeles. Just 8,750 of them learnt last night that they had two free passes in a computerised lottery.

Details of the event have yet to be announced, but the organiser Randy Phillips said to expect a mixture of songs, readings and speeches, rather than the razzmatazz of a pop concert. The Jackson family has been given 9,000 tickets to distribute to friends.

"In his private life, Michael was something of a traditionalist, so it would be wrong for this to be anything but a reverent, poignant, memorial," Mr Phillips said. "It won't be a show; it's a service. There will be a time, in the future, to celebrate him. But now is the time to bury him." Mr Phillips, the head of AEG Live, the firm that was promoting Jackson's comeback concerts at the O2 Arena in London, is "conceptualising" the memorial with Ken Erlich, who masterminds the Grammys, and Kenny Ortega, the producer of Dirty Dancing. He said they have "a list of people" who are being asked to perform or appear.

No decision has yet been made on whether Jackson's gold-plated coffin will be transported to the Staples Centre, or whether it will go straight to the Forest Lawn Cemetery, where he is to be buried tomorrow. "The casket is a public safety issue and, like every detail of the memorial, it must also be signed off by Katherine Jackson," Mr Phillips said.

He has faced criticism for allowing the 50-year-old singer to attempt a demanding series of 50 gigs. But he says Jackson was in perfect shape, and last week released video footage of him singing and dancing during rehearsal on 23 June, just 48 hours before he died.

"In the past year, I knew Michael Jackson more than anybody, and the only problem I had with him was that he was a bit like an absent-minded professor when it came to eating," Mr Phillips said. "He was too slim. Other than that, he was fit and healthy, and the video proves it."

Some reports have suggested that AEG could lose as much as £100m from the cancelled concerts. But Mr Phillips insisted they have "no financial concerns". Ticket-holders have been offered a refund, but between 20 and 30 per cent are choosing instead to be given specially designed, hologrammed tribute tickets, to keep as a memento.

AEG also owns 100 hours of video footage of rehearsals for the comeback concerts, together with audio recordings of the singer practising. "Obviously, I wish he were still here," Mr Phillips added. "I loved him. But we were filming the last days of Michael Jackson's rehearsals, and we have enough audio for two live albums. It could eradicate, or at least minimise our losses."

Los Angeles police are hoping to prevent hundreds of thousands of people descending on the streets, and have vetoed any procession. People without tickets will be banned from several blocks around the venue.

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