“Singular.” In almost every article chronicling Whitney Houston’s sudden death, that’s the word being used to describe her talent. And it couldn’t be a more accurate choice.
While Whitney Houston’s talent was singular, it looks like the value of her estate will follow a pretty common pattern. In the hours and days after her death, sales of her singles and albums skyrocketed. She’s joining the throngs of artists who came before her whose earnings continued – and substantially increased – after their deaths.
According to Forbes magazine, the estates of each of 2011’s five “top earning dead celebrities” grew by many millions of dollars last year. Three of the five have been dead for decades, and have estates that continue to earn significantly year after year.
- Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, took in $170 million last year.
- The King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, deceased since 1977, made $55 million.
- Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962, made $27 million in 2011. According to Forbes, Authentic Brands Group bought the rights to Monroe’s estate last year. The company has used her image in an ad for J’Adore fragrance with Charlize Theron and is planning to launch Marilyn Monroe cafés.
- Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz brought in $25 million last year. His estate stands to earn more in future years as his characters move into the digital space.
- The estate of John Lennon, who was killed in 1980, made $12 million in 2011.
How is all this information relevant to you and your clients? If you have a client who is a singer, an actor, a writer, or otherwise involved in the arts, counsel them on the importance of planning for the distribution of their interests in royalties. Make sure your client understands how dramatically the values of those royalties can change over the years – even after they’re gone.
In other words, what if the client sitting in your office is the next Vincent Van Gogh? What is worth $100 today might be worth millions tomorrow. So, if they want child number one to get the house and child number two to get the rights to their art, the end result could be a very unequal distribution of the estate.
When you help your client think through the range of possible outcomes, you open the door for a more balanced estate plan that better reflects their true wishes.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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