Michael Jackson’s Estate and the IRS in Tax Court: A game of ‘Beat It’
Michael Jackson, often referred to as “the King of Pop”, left us in June 2009. As expected, the Executors of his Estate filed an estate tax return reporting the value of various assets. The IRS audited the Estate’s return, and later issued a notice of deficiency that adjusted the reported values in May of 2013. Although the Estate and the IRS settled most of the valuation disputes, there was a disagreement as to the value of three assets: (1) Jackson’s right to publicity (“Image and Likeness”); (2) The New Horizon Trust II, which held his 50% ownership interest in Sony/ATV (which owned a large catalog of copyrights, among which were some 175 songs by The Beatles); and, (3) the New Horizon Trust III, which held copyrights to compositions written or co-written by Michael Jackson, as well as other songwriters.
The Tax Court was then left with the task of determining the fair market value of these assets at Jackson’s date of death. The fair market value for estate tax purposes is defined as the price at which the property would exchange hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Given the unique nature of Jackson’s assets, however, the challenged assets lacked a readily ascertainable fair market value. Ultimately, the Court concluded that the value of these three assets totaled $111,467,473. This was a dramatic decrease from the $481,866,964 valuation of the IRS’s expert at trial.
As we can see from the outcome of this opinion, valuation of assets is key to estate tax planning. In some cases, it is best to gift high-growth, hard to value assets earlier, and let them grow outside of your estate, rather than holding onto them. This strategy may allow you to moonwalk past the tax headache and enjoy the benefits of today’s unprecedentedly high gift tax exemptions.
Carefully implemented, this gift tax strategy can allow you to benefit from the current gift tax exemption, without losing control of assets, and may allow you to reduce your estate tax burden significantly.
Contact us to see if this simple but effective strategy could be right for you.
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June 9, 2021