The Estate Currently Known As Prince

The Estate Currently Known As Prince

The control that the artist Prince assiduously maintained over his creative property during his life was tighter than a rusted nut. YouTube searches turned up precious little for those who tried to listen to his recordings and concerts on the cheap.

Given such attention to detail it, it surprised all shortly after his death that he had apparently paid no mind to things as basic as the execution of a Last Will and Testament, at least as far as we know.

So all started having celebrity flashbacks to the death of James “Tony Soprano” Gandolfini who passed away intestate with property in two of the most tax-oppressive jurisdictions in this Grand Land. But its looks like it’s gonna be even worse than that for the estate of TAFKAP (The Artist Formerly Known As Prince).

The Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS was going to continue its trek into the undefined territory involving the valuation of the potential marketability and salability of a deceased celebrity’s name, image and likeness.

The WSJ reports, “The toughest issue won’t be Prince’s real estate, song royalties or his unreleased trove of recordings . . . [t]he estate-tax challenge is setting a cumulative value on Prince’s profit potential on the day he died.”

The article discusses a couple examples

It would be a manageable thing to determine the normal real estate value of the artist’s home, Paisley Park in Chanhassen, MN; a compound containing two recording studios, a dance rehearsal hall, a performance space, offices, and even living accommodations all under one roof.

But if the IRS wants to speculate on the potential value assuming it was, say, turned into a shrine in the manner and success of Graceland, its value for estate tax purposes would go through the roof.  

Or what of the potential worth of the rights to a possible movie about the life of the deceased star?

These aggressive, speculative practices the IRS seems poised to pursue raise several concerns:
  • First, the government seems bent on the creation of a phantom estate (in Prince’s case worth several hundred million dollars) on which current taxes will currently be due for those “non-intangible assets” that really don’t yet exist (figure 40% for the Feds and up to 16% to Minnesota).
  • Second, the intestate heirs may never choose to capitalize on the potential value, thereby paying the tax now for nothing later.
  • Third, no one seems bothered by all this. In other high profile cases the bro-ha seems to be over the final assessed amount, not the legitimacy of the IRS’s reasoning on the matter.

What annoys most, perhaps, is that if the heirs are successful in making a buck on the Prince persona, it’s not like state or local governments come up empty. They still will stand to collect significant revenue on income taxation of those future earnings.

Oh well. Changing the topic to phantom income, I had a farmer friend of mine tell me, “I made money yesterday. The price of hogs went down and I didn’t own any!”