Celebrity estate planning is a complicated process because while celebrities who pass away are not The Walking Dead, like the zombies are on AMC’s top-rated cable show… they are the “Earning Dead.” Many celebrities who are no longer alive are continuing to earn millions of dollars annually. This raises complex questions about what happens to their post-humous earnings, how their likeness will be valued, and how their overall estates will be taxed.
The attorneys at SinclairProsser Law know the ins-and-outs of even the most complicated estates.
Who are the Earning Dead Celebrities?
In 2016, some of the most famous deceased celebrities earned more money than most people will in their entire lives. Many of the names on this list of top-earning deceased celebrities may come as a big surprise. For example, some of the top earning celebs for 2016 included:
- Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, earned $160,000,000 in 2016.
- Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, earned $55,000,000 in 2016.
- Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962, earned $15,000,000 in 2016.
- Albert Einstein, who died in 1955, earned $10,000,000 in 2016.
While these celebrities are still household names, they aren’t zombies and they cannot take the money with them. Their estates are the ones who are earning all of this income now, and the money comes from things like licensing fees and royalties.
Ironically, in some cases, their deaths will actually trigger a new wave of interest in them and they will begin to earn a lot more after they are dead than when they were alive. This can mean that the total value of their estate gets significantly higher for many years after they are gone.
Celebrities who make an estate plan need to take into account the fact that they will continue earning money, and could possibly even earn MORE money, after they are dead and gone. In the case of Michael Jackson, his death rekindled interest and renewed his status as a popular culture icon.
The IRS wants to get its share of Michael Jackson’s post-death earnings, or Zombie Earnings, and it is claiming that his estate is worth more than $434 billion. Some of the estate planning lawyers involved in the case indicated that the court could determine that Jackson’s name and image be valued at more than a $1 billion.
A 2017 trial in tax court is going to determine how Jackson’s name and likeness will be valued and taxed, and the outcome of this case could have a big impact on the estate planning process for celebrities. While the value of an estate has always been calculated based on the worth of the decedent’s tangible and intangible personal property (including their likeness), celebrities are going to have to be very careful about making plans to limit taxes as much as possible on the big increase in their earning power that can occur after death.
Getting Help from An Estate Planning Lawyer
The zombies on The Walking Dead don’t seem to be too worried about their estate planning or their tax situation… but real-world celebrities really do need to think about post death earnings and about the impact of those earnings on estate tax.
Anyone and everyone needs to consider how their wealth is going to be taxed after they pass away and should make appropriate plans to try to reduce the amount of estate tax that may have to be paid. The IRS does not care that you are dead, they are still going to be coming after your hard-earned money anyway, and it is up to you to try to protect all that you have worked so hard to acquire.
The attorneys at SinclairProsser Law can help you to try to keep your wealth safe and secure.
Latest posts by Colleen Sinclair Prosser, Estate Planning Attorney (see all)
- Three Categories of Assets at Death - May 23, 2019
- Beneficiary Designations Aren’t a True Substitute for a Trust - April 18, 2019
- Planning for the Unexpected - March 14, 2019