Most estate tax practitioners will tell you estate tax it is all about valuation when assets are other than cash and marketable securities. The estate tax case of the Michael Jackson estate is an ideal demonstration. Tax Court proceedings are presently underway in that case.
The fiduciaries of Michael Jackson’s estate filed an estate tax return showing a value of $7 million. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency claiming a value of $1.32 billion, and demanded additional estate taxes of $505.1 million and $196.9 million in penalties and interest. Wow!
A large issue in the case, and one that is relevant to other celebrities, is the value at death of Jackson’s name and likeness. The estate reported the value at $2,105.00, claiming his reputation was tainted by child-abuse allegations and strange behavior. The IRS pegs that value at $434 million. At the time of his death, he was rehearsing for a comeback tour.
The valuation at death is not supposed to look at post-death events, but there is usually leakage on this issue that informs a court’s judgment. The question for any asset is what a willing buyer would pay for the asset from a willing seller on the date of death (or on a date that is 6 months later if alternate valuation is elected). That Jackson’s estate did a phenomenal job of exploiting his name and likeness after his death is not a favorable circumstance for it in this dispute. Nonetheless, allowing a substantial value for name and likeness can create significant difficulties for an estate since this is an intangible asset, and can result in a tax bill far in excess of available assets for payment if these assets cannot be sold. In large celebrity estates, the existence of this issue may prompt a quick sale of these assets to help establish value for estate tax purposes.
Note that a lot of the above information is from third party reporting on the estate and case, so don’t hold me to the accuracy of these figures.