New Details Emerge About Michael Jackson's Debt at the Time of His Death

Michael Jackson was one of the most prolific musicians to ever live, and he's got the net worth to prove it. That said, his exorbitant spending habits and expensive eccentricities caused him to go into massive debt in the years prior to his death. In fact, court documents filed in June 2024 revealed that Michael Jackson was around $500 million in the hole when he died on June 25, 2009.

"He wanted people to see his work and not just talk about his lifestyle," Randy Phillips, the former CEO of AEG Live, told Rolling Stone after the icon's death, suggesting that Jackson was working to get himself out of debt at the time of his passing. (He was rehearsing for his comeback This Is It residency at the 02 Arena in London.)

"Michael was a very smart marketing person. People say he was feeble and manipulated, but he was powerful and a manipulator. He was ready," Phillips said. "He wanted to clean up his finances. He was ready to stop living like a vagabond and settle down and earn money again."

Upon the 15th anniversary of Jackson's death, let's take a closer look at the King of Pop's net worth, now and at the time of his passing.

What was Michael Jackson’s net worth at the time of his death?

It may surprise you to learn that Michael Jackson, one of the most popular singers of all time, was in debt to the tune of half a billion dollars when he passed at the age of 50.

This information came to light in June 2024, when the executors of Jackson's estate, attorney John Branca and A&R executive John McClainfiled a petition to pay various legal firms for services they provided to the estate from July through December 2018.

"The Executors have faced extraordinarily challenging circumstances," the petition reads. "Among other issues, at the time of Michael Jackson’s death, Michael Jackson’s most significant assets were subject to more than $500 million of debt and creditors’ claims, with some of the debt accruing interest at extremely high interest rates, and some debt in default."

The executors went on to explain that, despite their compromised starting point, they've since managed to turn the estate's financial situation around and "have resolved virtually all of the creditors’ claims and litigation, and have successfully solidified the MJJ business as a significant entity in the music industry."

As such, they were seeking court authorization to compensate law firms that were key to the turnaround.

Related: Michael Jackson's 3 Kids Make Very Rare Carpet Appearance for the First Time in 10 Years

Was Michael Jackson in debt when he died?

Michael Jackson had racked up $500 million in debt by the time of his death in June 2009. While Jackson had earned between $50 million and $100 million a year from 1985 until 1995, he lived a rather expensive lifestyle, reportedly spending as much as $50 million a year. At one point, using his 50% ownership stake in music/publishing company Sony/ATV as collateral, Jackson took out a $270 million loan. However, Jackson managed to spend the entire $270 million—plus an additional $120 million—within a few short years.

According to testimony from certified public accountant William R. Ackerman in Jackson’s 2013 wrongful-death trial, Jackson spent his money on charitable donations, gifts, art, furniture and travel, with an especially large amount spent on jewelry. He was reportedly accruing debt to the tune of $30 million a month at the time of his death.

How much is Michael Jackson’s estate worth now?

Fifteen years after Michael Jackson’s death, his estate is now worth a massive $2 billion. Following his passing, the executors of his estate moved to fix his finances and reduce the debt accrued over the years.

How much does Michael Jackson make posthumously?

In a tragic and strange turn of events, Michael Jackson is reportedly known as the highest-earning dead celebrity on the planet at this time.

In 2023, Jackson’s estate earned approximately $115 million in large part because the Broadway musical MJ: The Musical, based on his life, grossed around $85 million in ticket sales. Earlier this year, Sony Music Group closed an agreement to buy half of Michael Jackson‘s catalog in a deal that reportedly valued his musical assets somewhere above $1.2 billion. And don't forget the estate still earns a 50% stake in the music licensing company Sony/ATV, which owns the rights to the Beatles catalog.

Next, his estate stands to earn even more with a forthcoming biopic, Michael, set to be directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jackson’s nephew Jaafar Jackson.

Related: Michael Jackson's Nephew Cast to Play the King of Pop in Biopic

Who inherited Michael Jackson’s estate?

Forty percent of Jackson's assets went to his three children: Prince Michael Jackson, Paris Jackson and Bigi Jackson (formerly known as “Blanket”), split evenly between them. Twenty percent was left to a variety of children’s charities. And the remaining 40% was left to support Jackson’s mother Katherine Jackson until her death, at which point the balance of that 40% will go to his kids, giving them an 80% share of the estate. Katherine Jackson, 93, has reportedly already received around $55 million from her late son’s estate in the years following his passing, as of this writing.

Related: Paris Jackson Supports Godfather Macaulay Culkin During Major Milestone

Who controls Michael Jackson’s estate?

The co-executors of Michael Jackson’s estate are attorney John Branca and A&R executive John McClain.

How much did Michael Jackson pay for Neverland Ranch?

Back in 1988, Michael Jackson bought his famed 2,700-acre property in Los Olivos, California, which he dubbed Neverland Ranch, for $17 million—the equivalent of around $44 million today when adjusted for inflation. He then spent an additional $35 million turning it into an amusement park, adding a zoo, theater, train station, go-kart track, Ferris wheel and even its own fire department.

Who owns Neverland Ranch now?

In 2015, Neverland Ranch was first listed for sale by real estate agents for $100 million. In 2017, two years later, that asking price dropped significantly to $67 million and several million dollars were spent to maintain the property as it had fallen into disrepair.

Two years after that, in 2019, just prior to the release of the documentary Leaving Neverland, in which Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege Jackson had sexually abused them when they were children, the price was significantly reduced once again to $31 million. The estate was also rebranded Sycamore Valley Ranch to create distance from the documentary and the allegations against the late Jackson. In addition, the amusement park adornment had been removed from the property.

In 2020, businessman Ron Burkle purchased the sprawling estate for a reported $22 million, much lower than the original asking price of $100 million. Burkle, a billionaire, had previously served as an advisor on business matters to the late singer as he struggled with debt prior to his passing.

Next, Everything to Know About Michael Jackson's Kids