Michael Jackson's Estate May Own the Taxman but Not Owe the Tax Man!
By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD
Michael Jackson's Estate May Own the Taxman, but Not Owe the Tax Man!
The untimely death of famed pop singer Michael Jackson raises some interesting estate tax issues. For estate tax purposes, assets generally must be valued at their fair market value at the time of the decedent's death. Treas. Reg. Sec. 20.2031-1(b).
Assets are valued at their "fair market value." This is defined as the price at which the property would change hands between a hypothetical willing buyer and hypothetical willing seller, assuming neither is forced into the transaction and that both parties are reasonably informed about the facts relevant to the sale. The price is normally determined based on the market in which the item is most commonly sold to the public. Treas. Reg. Sec. 20.2031-1(b) and 25.2512-1.
For anyone that owns a television or has been on the internet, the fascination with all things Michael Jackson has exploded. It seems pretty incontrovertible that the value of licensing anything with his image or log, or songs, has exploded in value. Yet, the value for tax purposes is determined at the date of death when the discussion was of a possible comeback final tour. Might just be that the entire post-death increase in value escapes the tax man.
There will likely be some pretty technical valuation analysis done to prove the difference in value of his assets pre- and post-death. Could the estate show that the value of his licensing rights, songs, etc. was quite a bit lower at death. Perhaps the difficulty or limited guarantees for his planned European tour might be used to support low values. If the publicity surrounding his death can be demonstrated to have increased these values, might the estate successfully argued that these were due to post-death events and not appropriately reflected in his date of death asset values? If this were to succeed, especially in light of some of the supposedly high debts Michael Jackson supposedly had, his estate may escape the Taxman, while leaving a tremendous financial legacy to his heirs.
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