Who Owns Marilyn Monroe’s Estate?

Marilyn Monroe’s photos and likeness are used to sell t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, and, well, you name it. When she died in 1962, she left no family and had a net worth of $800,000, which is equivalent to about $7 million today. Monroe spent her money freely, and gave some to relatives, employees and strangers. After her estate was settled, her fortune had declined to about $370,000. In her will, she gave $10,000 each to her longtime assistant and her half-sister. She put $5,000 in a trust fund for the education of her assistant’s child, and she left a $100,000 trust fund for her mother.

Celebrity Net Worth’s recent article entitled “How A Random Venezuelan-Born Actress Ended Up Owning The Rights To Marilyn Monroe’s Estate” says that her physical property was left to her acting coach Lee Strasberg. In her will, Monroe gave Strasberg 75% of her intellectual property rights. The remaining 25% was given to her therapist, Dr. Marianne Kris.

Dr. Kris died in 1980, and her stake in the Monroe estate was given to the Anna Freud Centre for the Psychoanalytic Study and Treatment of Children in London. However, what happened to the Strasberg 75% share?

Just a few years after Monroe died, in 1966, Paula Strasberg died. In 1967, Lee re-married actress Anna Mizrahi, a 28-year-old from Venezuela. Lee died in 1982, so the actress was then the owner of 75% of Monroe’s estate.

After taking over Lee’s 75% share of the Monroe estate, she signed deals that used Monroe’s name, signature and image on thousands of products and endorsements. Over time, Anna made Marilyn one of the highest-paid dead celebrities in the world, generating tens of millions in revenue and profits.

Eventually, Anna partnered with the celebrity management company called CMG. Years later, a lawsuit revealed that the CMG deal reportedly guaranteed Anna a minimum of $1 million a year. However, as it turned out, Anna made more than $7.5 million in licensing revenue in just the four years between 1996 and 2000, when she created Marilyn Monroe, LLC.

In January 2011, Anna sold her 75% stake in the Monroe estate to Authentic Brands Group for an estimated $20-30 million.

Reference: Celebrity Net Worth (April 2, 2021) “How A Random Venezuelan-Born Actress Ended Up Owning The Rights To Marilyn Monroe’s Estate”

 

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What Could Proposed Estate Tax Bill Mean to You?

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has released proposed legislation named “For the 99.5%” Act. If passed in its present form, the legislation would bring estate tax exemptions back to the 2009 thresholds of $3.5 million per individual and $7 million per married couple. Exemptions are currently $11.7 million and $23.4 million, as reported by Think Advisor in a recent article “Sen. Bernie Sanders Introduces Estate Tax Bill.”

Larger estates would also be subject to higher tax rates. The current 40% tax rate would be raised to 45% and taxable estates larger than $10 million would be taxed at 50%, amounts greater than $50 million at 55% and any estates valued at greater than $1 billion would be taxed at 65%.

The same rates would apply for all gift taxes, for which the threshold would be lowered to $1 million.

Sanders spoke at a Senate Budget Hearing committee, stating that his bill was designed to have the families of the “millionaire class not only not get a tax break but start paying their fair share of taxes.”

Another bill introduced by Sanders would prevent corporations from shifting profits offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes and restoring the top corporate rate to 35%, where it has been since 2016.

In contrast, Senators John Thune, South Dakota (R) and John Kennedy, Louisiana (R), introduced legislation in early March to repeal the estate tax entirely.

Frank Clemente, executive director for Americans for Tax Fairness, said the tax plan released by President Biden during his campaign also tracked the 2009 estate tax levels that are the basis of Sanders’ bill, but because of the higher tax brackets for larger estates, his group believes the Sanders bill would raise about twice as much revenue as the Biden plan.

History teaches us that there is a long distance between the time that a bill is introduced, and many changes are made as proposed legislation makes its way through the law-making process. In this case, it can be safely said that there will be changes to the tax and estate laws, and that may be the only sure thing.

Now is a good time to review your estate plan, if these federal estate changes will have an impact on your family’s wealth. Familiarity with your current estate plan and staying in touch with your estate planning attorney, who will also be watching what Congress does in the coming months, will allow you to be prepared for changes to the tax planning aspect of your estate plan in the near or distant future. My office is fully open to schedule an appointment to discuss if these proposals may affect you.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 25, 2021) “Sen. Bernie Sanders Introduces Estate Tax Bill”

 

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Estate Planning Lessons from Celebrity Nightmares

The dispute over Larry King’s estate shines a harsh spotlight on what happens when an elderly person makes major changes late in life to his or her estate plan, especially when the person has become physically weakened and possibly mentally affected, due to aging and illness. A recent article from The National Law Journal, “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways,” examines lessons to be learned from the Larry King will contest.

A handwritten will is most likely to be probated. King’s handwritten will was witnessed by two individuals and may rise to the standards of California’s rules for probate. California was likely King’s residence at the time of his death. However, even if King’s won’t satisfy one section of California estate law referring to probate, it appears to satisfy another addressing requirements for a holographic will.

Holographic will requirements vary from state to state, but it is generally a will that is handwritten by the testator and may or may not need to be witnessed.

The battle over the will is just a starting point. Most of King’s assets were in revocable trusts and will be conveyed through the trusts. He did not seek to revoke or amend the trusts before he died. News reports claim that the probate estate to be conveyed by the will is only $2 million, compared to non-probate assets estimated at $50 million—$144 million, depending upon the source.

Passing assets through trusts has the advantage of keeping the assets out of probate and maintaining privacy for the family. The trust does not become a matter of public record and there is no inventory of assets to be filed with the court.

Any pre- or post-nuptial agreements will have an impact on how King’s assets will be distributed. This is an issue for anyone who marries as often as King did. Apparently, he did not have a prenuptial agreement with his 7th wife, Shawn Southwick King. They were married for 22 years and separated in 2019. While Larry had filed for divorce, the couple had not reached a financial settlement. California is a community property state, so Southwick will have a legal claim to 50% of the assets the couple acquired during their long marriage, regardless of the will.

It is yet unclear whether there was a post-nuptial agreement. There are reports that the couple separated in 2010 after tabloid reports of a relationship between King and Southwick’s sister, and that there was a post-nuptial agreement declaring all of King’s $144 million assets to be community property. Southwick filed for divorce in 2010, and King sought to have the post-nup nullified. They reconciled for a few years and King was reported to have updated his estate plan in 2015.

The claim of undue influence on the will may not be easy to challenge. Southwick is claiming that Larry King Jr., King’s oldest son, exerted undue influence on his father to change the will. They were not close for most of Larry Jr.’s life, but in the later years of his life, King made a transfer of $250,000 to his son. Southwick wishes to have those transfers set aside on the basis of undue influence. She claims that when King executed his handwritten will, he was highly susceptible to outside influences and had questionable mental capacity.

Expect this will contest to continue for a while, with the possibility that the probate court dispute extends to other litigation between King’s last wife and his oldest son.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 15, 2021) “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways”

 

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