A Wish List for Whitney Houston’s Daughter and the Families of Other Artists

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The recent attention paid to the probate of the will of the late Whitney Houston is only a very small slice of a very complex estate. The complexity is primarily due to certain assets that are part of the estate and must be valued for estate tax purposes. How does one provide for the payment of death taxes paid if one has not attempted to establish values that will be respected by taxing authorities. Planning, or the lack thereof, may not be an item to grab newspaper headlines but it is more important than an excerpt from a will.

Although parts of Ms. Houston’s will were made public, we do not know whether Ms. Houston engaged in any significant business and estate planning prior to her passing. We do not know, because trusts and business entities formed during a person’s lifetime are not usually identified in a will.

We suspect that this artist’s most valuable assets are the copyrights for her music, her appearances (concerts and film), and her name (likeness) (the “Artist’s Rights”). Consider the catalogues of the collected works for the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The market values of these catalogues substantially escalated over time, according to published reports. Moreover, if the experience of the Elvis Presley estate is any indication, the body of work of the late Michael Jackson is of immeasurable value. These examples serve to drive up the value of Artist’s Rights. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to believe that Ms. Houston’s Artist’s Rights will be valued far in excess of the estate tax exclusion, currently $5,120,000...

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