Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Chris Cornell’s Widow Sues Soundgarden Again, Claims Group Declined $21 Million Buyout

ChrisCornellChris Cornell, singer of Soundgarden passed away suddenly in 2017. Since his passing, his widow Vicky Cornell has sued the surviving bandmembers, claiming that the $300,000 buyout offer is "ludicrously low." 

Vicky has stated that she wants Soundgarden's holdings to be professional valued in order to determine what the fair amount would be. "Vicky Cornell claims that the bandmembers declined her offer of $21 million for their interest in the band partnership, and also declined a separate offer of $16 million for the rights to the group’s recorded-music rights." 

Vicky apparently attempted to settle the matter in December by offering Matt Cameron and Ben Shepard $4 million a piece for their interest in the Soundgarden partnership and then raised the offer to $7 million after her other offer was declined. 

Vicky's complaint body states, “The band members have knowingly offered only an infinitesimal fraction of the true worth of Chris’ interest in Soundgarden and certain related entities by making a ludicrously low offer. And, they know it. … This case relates to, and seeks a judicial valuation of, Chris’ interest in Soundgarden (the band owned by the partnership of the same name) and certain related entities, including SG Recordings, SMF, SG Productions, and LLM (collectively, the Soundgarden Related Entities’).”

Of course, the surviving bandmembers rebuttal by claiming that the buyout offer was fair and was accurate and calculated by "respected music industry valuation expert Gary Cohen." 

See Jem Aswad, Chris Cornell’s Widow Sues Soundgarden Again, Claims Group Declined $21 Million Buyout, February 17, 2021. 

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

February 22, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Britney Spears' father loses his attempt to keep sole control of her investments as documentary stokes fans 'free Britney' campaign

FreebritBritney Spears' father, Jamie Spears, has come up empty in his attempt to keep sole control of her investments. "A California judge denied Jamie Spears' objections to establishing wealth management company Bessemer Trust Co as a co-conservator over her estate." Jamie has had control over Britney's finances since 2008. The conservatorship came after Britney had a number of public breakdowns, which included shaving her head and attacking paparazzi with an umbrella. 

Although the fight over conservatorship has been going on for a while, even inciting a movement coined the "Free Britney Movement," a new documentary has made the discussion relevant all over again. The documentary, 'Framing Britney Spears,' released last week. The documentary sheds light on Britney's mental health issues and "her struggle to regain autonomy in her career." 

The #FreeBritney movement has brought on a slew of sympathy and support for Britney. This support ranges from your average Joe and average Jane fans to celebrities like Miley Cyrus. 

Britney recently posted a video of one of her previous performances with the following caption on Twitter and Instagram, "I´ll always love being on stage .... But I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person ..... I love simply enjoying the basics of every day life !!!!"

See Megan Sheets, Britney Spears' father loses his attempt to keep sole control of her investments as documentary stokes fans 'free Britney' campaign, Daily Mail (U.K.), February 11, 2021. 

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

February 17, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Britney Spears’ father Jamie and Bessemer Trust Co. to continue co-conservatorship, judge says

SpearsA judge has ruled to keep Bessemer Trust Co. as a co-conservator over Britney Spears' estate. Further, Spears' father's objects to sharing conservatorship duties were thrown out. 

Britney Spears' attorney stated on Thursday that "he originally proposed the co-conservatorship between Bessemer and Jamie to give both parties 'an equal division of responsibility, in the hopes that they would sit down and figure out together the best way to handle this complex estate for the benefit of my client.'" He also added, "It’s no secret that my client does not want her father as co-conservator, but we recognize that removal is a separate issue." The attorney further recommended that Bessemer and Jamie Spears meet to discuss a budget and investment plan for Britney's estate. 

According to Vivian Lee Thoreen, Jamie's attorney, Britney asked for and agreed to her father's role early in the conservatorship. Thoreen stated, "Ms. Spears reflected in court papers that she wanted her father to be the sole conservator of her estate."

Britney Spears did not appear in the proceedings that took place last week. Additional hearings are expected to take place on March 17 and April 27.

See Nate Day,  Britney Spears’ father Jamie and Bessemer Trust Co. to continue co-conservatorship, judge says, Fox News, February 12, 2021.  

February 16, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Britney Spears Conservatorship Case Heads Back to Court

SpearsAs Britney Spears continues to fight to get her life back, fans and other onlookers are creating hype around the New York Times documentary "Framing Britney Spears." The documentary covers the #FreeBritney movement spurred by the conflict over Britney Spears' conservatorship. The conservatorship arrangement has left her father in charge to manage her career, personal life and finance since 2008. 

The documentary includes footage of Spears when she was just a young and gifted performer, who was often used and taken advantage of for political gain. Spears was often terrorized by paparazzi and evil celebrity culture. 

Since the documentary has been released, celebrities are beginning to join the movement, which was mostly made up of activists and superfans at its origin. 

Spears tweeted earlier this week,

“I’ll always love being on stage …. but I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person ….. I love simply enjoying the basics of every day life!!!!”

“Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life,” she wrote, “it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”

It is clear that Britney wants her father out as her conservator. According to her lawyer, Spears is afraid of her father Jamie and wanted her temporary personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, to be made permanent. 

See Julia Jacobs, Britney Spears Conservatorship Case Heads Back to Court, N.Y. Times, February 9, 2021. 

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  

February 11, 2021 in Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, New Cases, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Handling of Britney Spears

SpearsThe unusual court-approved conservatorship of Britney Spears which spurred the "Free Britney" movement continues to be the topic of conversation and has even brought a new documentary from the New York Times. The movement and the documentary are made up of fans of Britney Spears. 

Liz Day, a writer for the Times Insider, stated, "It appears to raise a contradiction: How can someone be seemingly able to function at a high level as a superstar performing sold-out shows in Las Vegas, while also being so unable to take care of herself and at risk that this layer of intense protection is needed?" Liz Day is also a senior editor for the new documentary and film which is titled, "Framing Britney Spears." 

Many fans and followers are asking themselves the same question, and many are irritated at the way Britney Spears has been treated during the last 13 years of the legal arrangement and the continued legal process. 

The film is not without controversy, as the film includes clips, interviews, and commercials of Britney Spears in the past, including those that occurred in her early rise to fame. 

It is not secret that Britney Spears was loved by many, but she was also hated and tortured by many. Much of this hatred was supported and encouraged by the mainstream media. 

According to Johanna Schiller, the archival producer, “Britney is so incredibly well documented and so much is out there that there was an overload of material,” Ms. Schiller said. “What was challenging was finding the choice moments in that ocean of stuff and trying to pinpoint material that hadn’t been out there so much before.”

According to Britney's lawyer, “Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret,” her lawyer wrote. “In this case, it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching.”

“The New York Times Presents” airs on FX on Friday at 10 p.m. and can be streamed on Hulu." 

See Lix Day, The Handling of Britney Spears, February 5, 2021. 

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  

 

February 9, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)