March 16, 2017

IRS vs. the Estate of Michael Jackson

The estate of Michael Jackson has been in the news lately, as the attorneys representing the estate recently spent some time in tax court arguing with the IRS. Their disagreement is based on the value of the late singer’s name and likeness, specifically what the fair market value was (on the day he died) for the rights to commercialize Mr. Jackson’s image and name. 

When he died, Mr. Jackson was gearing up for a series of shows intended to re-establish himself following a string of bizarre behaviors and a public trial involving alleged inappropriate interactions with children. Mr. Jackson’s attorneys are arguing that these events diminished the value of the Michael Jackson brand so much that a reasonable buyer would have only paid $2,105 for the rights to market the King of Pop.

The IRS claims that Mr. Jackson’s estate owes $700 million – $500 million in estate taxes and $200 million in penalties. The agency initially valued the rights to commercialize Mr. Jackson’s likeness at $464 million, and is currently arguing that the value upon his death was $161 million. 

None of the estates I’ve worked on have ever had near the complexity as Michael Jackson’s. Many of them have had difficult-to-value assets, however, including business interests, collectibles, expensive artwork and rugs, and everything in between. 

If you have privately held business interests, a collection of rare baseball cards, or any other unique personal property, you should discuss these items (and their fair market values) with your estate planner. You may also want to consider having them appraised for tax and estate planning purposes. You might not leave your family with a $700 million IRS dispute, but whatever clarity you can provide through your planning documents can help avoid costly disputes among family members and taxing authorities.

In an unrelated note, Mr. Jackson’s former home has been put up for sale at $67 million. If you have the money and are interested in owning a 2,700-acre estate complete with a lagoon-style swimming pool and a 50-seat movie theatre, this may be for you (the amusement park and petting zoo were removed during recent renovations to the property). Mr. Jackson gave title to the home to an investment firm in 2008, amidst his personal financial troubles, and the property is now being sold by the investment firm and Mr. Jackson’s estate.