That’s what the IRS claimed, although they apparently settled for a lesser amount in determining the tax due on the singer’s estate.
I have written about this type of situation before. This commentator brings up something I hadn’t really thought about: doesn’t valuing the right of publicity owned by the estate of a deceased celebrity assume that the estate or the beneficiaries of the estate are going to exploit that right? What if they don’t intend to, or they even agree that they won’t?
The right of publicity isn’t like a Picasso painting, that has value whether the beneficiaries plan to sell it or not. The fact that they could market Whitney Houston’s likeness, or her name, doesn’t mean they will, and if they don’t, it’s not worth anything.
I suppose if the estate has memorabilia (tangible items) containing her likeness, those items have value, but the IRS is talking about the right to something intangible and putting a value on it. Even if you don’t think that’s unfair, putting a value on it (like $11.7 million) seems like it would have to be awfully subjective.
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