Celebrity, Death, and Taxes: Michael Jackson's Estate
8 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2009 Last revised: 30 Mar 2011
Date Written: October 19, 2009
The untimely death of Michael Jackson this past June presents an opportunity to reassess certain thorny estate tax issues that may arise when a celebrity dies owning valuable intellectual property. Elsewhere we have debated hypothetical, tax-motivated changes to state laws relating to postmortem publicity rights. This article focuses on existing legislation, like California’s, that makes publicity rights both devisable and descendible. Federal transfer taxes are levied on intangible property as well as tangible assets, and therefore apply to intellectual property, including a celebrity’s right of publicity and copyrights retained by an artist in his or her creations. Using Michael Jackson’s estate as an example, and focusing primarily on publicity rights, we examine two questions that any estate planner representing a celebrity client ought to consider. First, how should a personal representative value intellectual property for estate tax purposes? Second, what strategies are available to lessen the estate tax burden associated with certain intellectual property rights?
Keywords: estate tax, intellectual property, publicity rights, estate planning, valuation, celebrity, celebrities, Michael Jackson
JEL Classification: K34, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation