Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cher Sues Sonny Bono's Widow, Mary, for Withholding Royalties

CherCher has filed suit against Sonny Bono's widow, Mary Bono, alleging that Sonny's widow has "been withholding royalties from Sonny and Cher's 1960s hits. . .such as 'I Got You Babe' and 'The Beat Goes On." 

According to the legal documents filed in Federal Court, Cher claims that she and Sonny agreed to an equal split of their music royalties when they divorced in 1975. Cher claims that she and Sonny executed a deal when the couple settled the divorce in 1978. 

Cher alleges that Mary has been trying to "undo her ownership of those rights and royalties in recent years." 

Cher and Sonny married in 1964 and were very successful as a couple in the early '70s before they divorced. Cher went on to have a successful solo career, while Sonny became a California politician. Sonny was married to Mary when he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

According to reports, Cher and Mary got along well after Sonny's death, but their friendship has clearly ended as Cher is now suing for at least $1 million in damages and is asking a judge to declare the 1978 divorce settlement enforceable. 

See Cher Sues Sonny Bono's Widow, Mary, for Withholding Royalties, TMZ, October 14, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 16, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sean Lennon has taken control of John Lennon’s estate

LennonFor around 30 years, John Lennon's estate had been managed by Lennon's widow Yoko Ono. However, Ono has "retired from public life in recent years," with her last formal appearance being in 2017. 

Due to Ono's "retirement," Sean Ono Lennon has taken control of John Lennon's estate. Sean Lennon mentioned to an audience at the National Music Publisher's Association Awards that Ono had an "illness" but did not disclose any further information. 

Sean was appointed as the director at eight companies linking to Yoko Ono and the Beatles. Companies include multimedia company Apple Corp, "which was founded by John Lennon alongside bandmates Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1968." 

Sean Ono Lennon will also oversee Lincoln, a company that manages the publishing rights of some of John Lennon's music. 

Taking control of Lennon's estate will not be a simple task. Lennon's estate was estimated to be worth around $800 million at his time of death, and it is safe to assume that it has grown since then. 

In 2019, Forbes reported that Lennon's estate had earned more than $14 million. At the time, Lennon was the world's 7th top-earning dead celebrity. 

Sean is motivated by his dad's music and looks to make sure the music is not forgotten. 

See Riley Fitzgerald, Sean Lennon has taken control of John Lennon’s estate, Cosmic Magazine, last visited Oct. 12, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 12, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Selena's former husband Chris Perez ends years-long legal battle with Quintanillas over documentary

SelenaSelena's former husband Chris Perez posted a tweet on Tuesday claiming that his legal battle—which has lasted a half-decade—with the Quintanilla family has come to a mutual end. The legal battle was over a proposed Selena documentary. 

According to the former husband of the late Tejano idol, he and the Quintanilla family have "amicably resolved" their ongoing legal dispute over the proposed documentary on Selena's life and music. 

Chris Perez's tweet read:

Good news! I have amicably resolved my legal dispute with the Quintanilla family. Now that these issues are behind us, going forward, my hope, and the hope of the Quintanilla family, is for us to work together to continue to honor and celebrate the legacy of Selena. 

Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., shared a similar message of reconciliation on Facebook shortly after Perez's post. 

See Ariana Garcia, Selena's former husband Chris Perez ends years-long legal battle with Quintanillas over documentary, Chron, September 15, 2021. 

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  

September 16, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 10, 2021

Britney Spears’s father files to end her 13-year conservatorship

Free BritneyBritney Spears's father, Jamie Spears, filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court to end the conservatorship controlling his daughter's life and finances. 

The petition was filed on Tuesday, nearly a month after Jamie Spears agreed to vacate his role as the pop star's conservator. Jamie Spears has served as conservator of the pop star's estate for 13 years. 

Britney Spears's conservatorship was established in 2008 "as she publicly struggled with her mental health in the face of intense, unrelenting scrutiny from the news media and paparazzi."

The petition will not go into effect unless Judge Brenda Penny approves. The next hearing was set for September 29, in which Penny was set to hear a petition from Britney Spears's counsel, Mathew Rosengart, in which he would have advocated to remove Jamie Spears as conservator. 

Rosengart stated that the petition "represents a massive legal victory for Britney Spears, as well as vindication. 

See Sonia Rao, Britney Spears’s father files to end her 13-year conservatorship, The Washington Post, September 8, 2021. 

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 10, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Britney Spears’s Father to Exit Conservatorship

Estate planningAccording to court documents, James Spears plans to transfer control of Britney Spears' finances to a new conservator.

The court documents, which were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday, come after a long battle between the pop star and her father who has governed the pop star's "personal life and roughly $60 million estate for the last 13 years."

James Spears' decision to step comes weeks after Britney Spears' asked a judge to remove her father as the conservator after characterizing the estate as "abusive."

Britney Spears was also recently allowed to hire a new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, who has pushed "aggressively" to remove or suspend James Spears as conservator of the estate. Although Mr. Rosengart conceded that "there are no actual grounds for suspending or removing [Mr. Spears], he does not believe a public battle with his daughter over his continuing services as her conservator would be in her best interest." 

Mr. Spears said that he would work with the court and Mr. Rosengart to "prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator." Mr. Rosengart stated that Mr. Spears decision to step down is "vindication for Britney." 

See Neil Shah, Britney Spears’s Father to Exit Conservatorship, The Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 12, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Britney Spears' new lawyer files to remove father's control

SpearsBritney Spears' new attorney, Mathew Rosengart, petitioned to remove her father from the conservatorship that has "controlled her life and money for 13 years and replace him with a professional accountant." 

In documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Rosengart said that the current legal arrangement "has grown increasingly toxic and is simply no longer tenable." Rosengart proposed that Jamie Spears be replaced with CPA Jason Rubin as conservator of Spears' estate. Documents state that Spears' estate includes $2.7 million in cash and more than $57 million in assets. 

Rosengart stated that he first priority is removing Jamie Spears as conservator of the estate, which he stays is "the most pressing issue facing Ms. Spears." 

Rosengart added, "[a]ny father who genuinely loves his daughter and has her best interests at heart should willingly step aside in favor of the highly respected professional fiduciary nominated here.”

Lynne Spears, Britney's mother and Jamie's ex-wife said that Jamie's "microscopic control" over her health care and business decisions was especially damaging. 

Since Judge Brenda Penny granted Britney Spears permission to hire an attorney of her choice, the ball has begun rolling, and it appears Britney Spears may have more hope at ending the conservatorship. 

See Andrew Dalton, Britney Spears' new lawyer files to remove father's control, ABC News, July 26, 2021. 

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  

July 28, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate

James BrownEntertainer James Brown's family has reached a settlement that will end a 15-year battle over the late singer's estate. David Black, an attorney representing Brown's estate, confirmed to the Associate Press, "that the agreement was reached July 9. 

The legal battle had been going on since his death at the age of 73 on Christmas Day 2006. James Brown's death led to a slew of "bizarre headlines, beginning with Tomi Rae Hynie—a former partner who claimed to be Brown's wife—being locked out of his 60-acre (24-hectare) estate while photographers captured her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in." 

There were over a dozen lawsuits filed by people attempting to get their hands on Brown's assets, which have been estimated to be worth anything from $5 million to more than $100 million. 

Brown was renowned for hundreds of iconic musical works including hits like “I Feel Good” and “A Man’s World,” and was known around the world for his flashy performances and dynamic stage presence. But years of drug problems and financial mismanagement caused his estate to dwindle.

The war over Brown's estate did not just include his assets, there was also a fight over what to do with his body. Brown's family fought over his remains for more than two months, "leaving Brown's body, still inside a gold casket, sitting in cold storage in a funeral home." 

Last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Hynie had not been legally married to Brown and did not have a right to his estate. 

Justice also ordered a circuit court to "promptly proceed with the probate of Brown's estate in accordance with his estate plan, which outlined creation of a trust that would use his music royalties to fund educational expenses for children in South Carolina and Georgia." 

According to AP News: 

A 2009 settlement plan would have given nearly half of Brown’s estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to Hynie, and the rest to be split among his adult children. The state Supreme Court overturned that deal in 2013, writing that then-Attorney General Henry McMaster — now the state’s governor — hadn’t followed Brown’s expressed wishes for most of his money to go to charity, having instead selected a professional manager who took control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees to settle debts.

See Meg Kinnard, Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate, AP News, July 23, 2021. 

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  

July 27, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Britney Spears: ‘I Just Want My Life Back’

SpearsBritney Spears opened up to a Los Angeles Judge on Wednesday. She told the judge that "she had been drugged compelled to work against her will and prevented from removing her birth control device over the past 13 years. . ." 

Britney Spears further plead, “I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized. . . .I just want my life back.”

Wednesday was the first time Britney Spears had addressed the Court and the World in such a detailed manner, outlining the struggles she has faced for years. Britney Spears asked for the conservatorship arrangement with her father, Jamie Spears, to end without her having to be evaluated. “I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work. The laws need to change,” she added. “I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive. I don’t feel like I can live a full life.”

The "Free Britney" Movement has continued to gain traction and has imploded following Britney Spears' statements in court on Wednesday.

Britney Spears also said, “It’s embarrassing and demoralizing what I’ve been through, and that’s the main reason I didn’t say it openly,” Ms. Spears said. “I didn’t think anybody would believe me.” Ms. Spears said she had been previously unaware that she could petition to end the arrangement. “I’m sorry for my ignorance,” she said, “but I didn’t know that.”

See Joe Coscarelli, Britney Spears: ‘I Just Want My Life Back’, N.Y. Times, June 24, 2021. 

June 24, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Tax Trial of the Century…

MJWhen one things of words associated with Michael Jackson (moonwalk, singer, dancer, performer, etc.) they do not typically thing of the words "tax court." However, due to a monstrous tax trial, those words are now associated with Michael Jackson. 

Following Michael Jackson's death in 2009, the Executors of his estate filed an estate tax return reporting the value of his property. Included in this valuation was "Jackson's image and likeness, his 50% interest in Sony/ATV, a music catalog and music publishing business, and his interest in Mijac Music, which owned musical compositions from a variety of artists, including Jackson." 

The IRS challenged the valuation of the assets and the Tax Court was left to determine the fair market value at Jackson's date of death. The Estate valuation was a reported $2.2 million and the IRS's valuation of the assets was a whopping $964 million. 

Due to the unique nature of the assets, the market values were difficult to assess. This difficulty lead to the necessity for professional appraisers to value the assets. 

The Court engaged in a thorough analysis of the valuations performed by experts retained by both sides, while also performing its own analysis. The Court ultimately came to a conclusion which can be seen at the link posted below. 

According to Jackson's Executors:

"This thoughtful ruling by the U.S. Tax Court is a huge, unambiguous victory for Michael Jackson's children. For nearly 12 years Michael's Estate has maintained that the government's valuation of Michael's assets on the day he passed away was outrageous and unfair, one that would have saddled his heirs with an oppressive tax liability of more than $700 million. . ." 

See Mark Dana, Tax Trial of the Century…, SGR Blog, (last visited June 8, 2021). 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 8, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Aretha Franklin’s Estate Signs Tentative Deal Over Back Taxes Owed

ArethaSince Aretha Franklin's death in 2018, there has been a looming debt ganging over her estate. After three years, Franklin's estate is moving toward an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to repay this debt which is comprised of "thousands and thousands of [dollars] in federal revenue taxes that the singer owed throughout her life. . ." 

The settlement requires the estate to put aside 45% of all income it receives to repay the tax responsibility that Franklin accrued from 2010 to 2017. Also, $800,000 is to be paid to the IRS within 5 days of the deal's approval. 

A document submitted in court on February 19, states that the IRS has declared that the state owes $7.8 million, but apparently, this determination did not include about $3 million that the estate alleged it paid at the end of 2018. 

Under the deal, 40% of the estate's revenues will be put toward ongoing taxes and funds to Franklin's heirs. This 40% will be generated by music royalties and licensing and is allowed to be held in escrow. 

If a deal is reached, the estate will have room to breathe and bring in revenue. 

The worth of Franklin's estate has not been fully determined but it has been estimated to be around $80 million. 

There were also multiple wills found, which has lead to a stark divide between Franklin's alleged heirs as members of Franklin's family have been battling to prove which documents should be probated. 

See Ben Sisario, Aretha Franklin’s Estate Signs Tentative Deal Over Back Taxes Owed, N.Y. Times, March 2, 2021. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 11, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax, Music, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)