Family: Where there's a will... there's affray

When Michael Jackson's siblings start squabbling over his estate you know it's bad (really, really bad)

I've neve owned a pet chimpanzee so my reserves of empathy are perhaps limited, but this is turning into a vintage week for connoisseurs of the knockabout soap opera that is Michael Jackson's familial legacy. Tuesday saw police called to the home of the late singer's mother, Katherine, amid claims of an incident of "battery". Several relatives had become involved in a confrontation, which – to this reporter, at least – resembles a Scouse wedding, as scripted by Harry Enfield, sometime in the early 1990s.

It began when three Jackson siblings –Jermaine, Janet, and Randy – drove on to the property, in a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. According to multiple reports, they announced that they intended to leave with Michael's orphaned children, who have lived there since his death in 2009. When guards intervened, a scuffle ensued. The tabloid website TMZ, which carried a video recording of its early stages, claimed that Janet Jackson, who is 46, exchanged "bitch slaps" with Michael's daughter, Paris, while Trent Jackson, a cousin who lives on the property, "put Randy in a headlock and punched Jermaine in the mouth". As Mr Enfield's poodle-haired Liverpudlians might say: "Calm down! Calm down! Calm down!"

No charges or arrests were forthcoming. But the fisticuffs represent a signal escalation in a long-running – and, some might say, sordid – feud that, one way or another, seems destined to end up in court.

At its root is money. More specifically, the King of Pop's estate, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and at present is controlled by two Los Angeles lawyers, John Branca and John McClain. When Jackson died, he left all his earthy goods (aside from a portion bequeathed to charities) to a trust administered by the two attorneys. He stipulated that it should benefit his mother, Katherine, and three children: Prince Michael, who is now 15; Paris, 14; and Prince Michael II, a 10-year-old nicknamed "Blanket".

Jackson's seven brothers and sisters were frozen out, as was his father, Joe. Several of them promptly launched legal bids to have the will overturned because, according to Randy Jackson, they believe Michael's will to be: "a fake".

Those long-running hostilities escalated last week, when five of the siblings – Jermaine, Janet, Randy, Rebbie and Tito – wrote to Branca and McClain accusing them of overcharging for administering the estate. Their letter was promptly leaked.

On Sunday, it then emerged that Jackson's children hadn't seen Katherine (their supposed guardian) in eight days. Hours after they filed a "missing person" report she turned-up in Arizona, at the home of her eldest daughter, Rebbie.

Rumours then began to circulate that the "rebel" siblings are attempting to have Katherine, who is 82, declared "infirm" in an effort to gain control of the $45,000 (£30,000) monthly allowance she receives from Branca and McClain for looking after her grandchildren.

It's a stupendously ugly business, all told, in which three young orphans have been cast in the role of innocent victims.

Meanwhile, the four surviving members of the Jackson Five recently began a series of US concerts. With either a keen sense of irony, or a flagrant disregard for reality, they are calling it: "The Unity Tour."

The other estate disputes

Howard Hughes Having failed to make a will, it took 34 years to settle Howard Hughes's estate after his death in 1976.

J Howard Marshall After the oil tycoon died in 1995, his wife of 14 months, Anna Nicole Smith, and his son, E Pierce, both claimed his $1.6bn estate. Despite both having died since, the battle goes on.

Aaron Spelling Tori Spelling, daughter of the television producer who died in 2006, claimed she was being cut out of her father's $500m estate. Allegedly she received just $800,000.

James Brown Brown's estate has been the subject of court battles since his death in 2006. His last wife and son were not included while two former trustees say they were ousted from control by the family.

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