WHAT DO PRINCE, MICHAEL JACKSON, AND WHITNEY HOUSTON HAVE IN COMMON? AND HOW IS ROBIN WILLIAMS DIFFERENT?
The obvious thing that Prince, the Gloved One, and Whitney Houston have in common is that they were all pop music megastars who died young. As a result of that commonality, they also left behind a huge tax problem for their successors, thanks to the IRS’ claim that the future value of a performing artist’s publicity rights is an asset that is taxable under the federal estate tax.
Valuing those future publicity rights is probably not an exact science. I wrote about the issue when it was raised following Prince’s passing. To get a better idea of what I mean, all you have to do is look at the difference between what the IRS claims Michael Jackson’s persona is worth, $434,000,000, and what his estate said it is worth, $2,105.
And how is Robin Williams different? He wasn’t a musician, but his persona is undoubtedly every bit as much a taxable asset as the others' in the eyes of the IRS. Yet that value apparently won’t result in a tax liability for his estate. Why? Because he left his publicity rights to charity.
I haven’t posted about self-driving cars lately, so it’s time to return to the subject. This item in Motor Trend tells me that Google is serious about following through on its efforts to develop an autonomous vehicle.
You could say that if Google was really serious, they would partner with an automaker other than Fiat. I wouldn't say that, but you could.
You can read my Estate Planning Law Report for May, about how to make a holographic will and other topics, on my firm's site, here.
NEWS FROM THE MUSIC WORLD
Time out from law blogging for this:
Somehow I missed the news that Dale Griffin, also known as Buffin, has died. You may not have liked, or even heard of, the band that he co-founded, but he was a great, and underrated, talent.
I can tell you from having been around people who fit the description: to rise to the level of performance that Buffin did requires both tremendous talent and hard work.
Tangentially related to the issue of putting a value on Prince’s future earning potential, a post on the Volokh Conspiracy blog disparages proposed legislation that would give a person’s heirs (in this case, Prince’s heirs) the sole right to profit from his name, voice, signature, photograph, and likeness, in any medium, forever.
Those headlines about a robotic lawyer are misleading. You won’t be talking to a robot when you call my office, at least not anytime soon. What the story behind the headlines is actually about is essentially a refinement of existing computerized legal research technology. That technology makes it possible to locate cases dealing with a particular topic by searching for specified words and phrases in the text of the cases. It’s a technology that has been around as long as I have been a lawyer, although it has improved dramatically since it was first introduced.
BITCOIN SOUNDS INTRIGUING, BUT…
TaxProf linked to a scholarly article on the tax treatment of Bitcoin. It seems intuitively obvious that Bitcoin wouldn’t fit the tax code definition of foreign currency. It’s not issued by a foreign government, or by any government. The problem, it seems, is that it doesn’t fit any existing definition.
I’m not sure why Bitcoin is beset by so many bureaucratic obstacles. Perhaps it’s a sign of the overcomplicated times we live in.
On the other hand, I haven’t seen a straightforward explanation of how Bitcoin works, nor have I really taken the time to try to understand it, so maybe the idea behind Bitcoin is just too complicated.
I am still intrigued by the idea, however.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT VALUE OF THE FUTURE EARNING POTENTIAL OF A DECEASED ARTIST?
According to an item in the Wall Street Journal, the IRS claims it must know, and intends to find out, the current value of Prince’s future earning potential, so that it can subject that value to the federal estate tax as part of Prince’s estate.
Via Taxprof Blog.
Arizona law requires that a will be signed by two witnesses. A will that does not comply with that law can nevertheless be valid, however, if the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the person making the will (the “testator”). Such a will is called a holographic will.
A holographic will should be used only as a last resort. Getting the will admitted to probate, and the actual administration of the estate, are likely to be much more complicated with a holographic will. If you have no alternative, however, here’s my template for a holographic will:
The statute says that the signature and material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator. This means write the entire thing out in longhand. It’s not going to be that long anyway.
First, write this: “This is my Will.” Next, write: “I nominate [insert name here] as my personal representative.” Then, “I give all of my estate to [insert name].” Finally, if you have children under 18, write this: “I nominate [insert name] as guardian and conservator for my children under age 18.” Then sign your name and write the date under your name.
Seriously, don’t do this unless you have no alternative. But if you have to make a will this way, it should work.*
*It should work in Arizona, that is. I don’t know what the rules are in other states. This discussion refers only to Arizona law.
They might not be interesting to a non-lawyer, but I always find stories discussing the legal end of the music business fascinating. This particular one is pretty inside baseball and devotes a lot of space to trivialities that are probably pretty boring if you aren’t a lawyer, but I was entertained by it.
The contents of this blog, this web site, and any writings by me that are linked here, are all my personal commentary. None of it is intended to be legal advice for your situation.